Popularity of zero-hours contracts ‘beginning to unwind’

19 Sep 2017 By Hayley Kirton

Number of employment contracts with no guaranteed minimum hours drops by a third in two years

The trend for using controversial zero-hours contracts may have “begun to unwind”, experts have suggested, after official figures revealed their usage had dropped by a third since their peak two years ago.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published this morning, showed there were 1.4m employment contracts that did not guarantee a minimum number of hours in use in May, down a third (33 per cent) from a peak of 2.1m in May 2015.

“Coupled with figures we’ve already seen from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) showing a small fall in the number of people who say they’re on zero-hours contracts, it seems possible that the trend towards this type of work has begun to unwind,” said David Freeman, senior ONS labour market statistician.

The LFS found 883,000 people, or 2.8 per cent of all people in employment, had a zero-hours contract role as their main job between April and June 2017, compared with 903,000 people, or 2.9 per cent of all those in employment, between April and June 2016.

The number of zero-hours contracts in use has also fallen by 17.6 per cent from 1.7m in May 2016, while the proportion of organisations using zero-hours contracts has dropped from 8 per cent to 6 per cent in the same time period.

Zero-hours contracts have been widely criticised for not offering enough security to workers. A study released by Citizens Advice in January found nearly 20 per cent of employers using zero-hours contracts changed or cancelled shifts with just 48 hours’ notice.

Despite the drop in zero-hours contracts’ use, Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said today’s figures were still too high.

“While it’s good that some employers have ditched them as a result of union campaigning, let’s not pretend that life at the sharp end has become easier overnight,” she added.

Meanwhile, although there had been an overall drop in people with a zero-hours contract as their main job, statistics collected during the LFS revealed a small increase in people on a zero-hours contract who had been in their job for five or more years.

“The rising proportion of zero-hour contract workers that have been employed on them for more than five years suggests that we need further legislation that would give [those on] zero-hours contracts the right to request a minimum number of hours per week after 12 months of employment,” said Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market analyst at the CIPD. “In addition, a ‘know your rights’ campaign would help more zero-hour contract workers understand the full range of rights and conditions they are entitled to.”

The government-backed Taylor Review, which was published in July and examined modern working practices, called for rights to be introduced to allow those who had been on zero-hours contracts for more than a year to request fixed hours from their employer which better reflected the hours they had actually been working.

Despite their name, the ONS also found that somebody on a zero-hours contract typically works 25.7 hours a week. However, around a quarter (26.6 per cent) of people on zero-hours contracts wanted more hours, compared with just 7.2 per cent of people in employment but not on a zero-hours contract.

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