Laura Macdonald | Senior Associate

Zero-Hours Contracts Still Popular with Employers

The subject of zero-hours contracts never fails to divide opinion, with supporters highlighting that they can offer highly valued flexibility to certain groups of employees, while detractors criticise the uncertainty they create and the difficulties this can cause.

Rise in Number of ZHCs

The latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have given an insight into the current usage of these types of employment contracts, based on information gained from the Labour Force Survey and also the ONS’ own twice-yearly survey of businesses.

According to the figures, there were 905,000 people employed on zero-hours contracts (ZHCs) in their main job during October to December 2016, which apparently represents 2.8% of all people in employment. This is an increase of 101,000 over the numbers recorded during the same period of 2015, which amounted to 804,000 or 2.5% of people in employment.

Employee Characteristics

The ONS also looked into the characteristics of people employed on ZHCs and the industries in which they work, and found that:

  • Women make up a bigger proportion of those reporting working on ZHCs (52%) compared with the proportion in employment not on ZHCs (47%).
  • People who report being on a ZHC are more likely to be at the youngest end of the age range; 33% of people on ZHC are aged 16 to 24 (compared with 12% for all people in employment not on a ZHC).
  • 18% of people on ZHCs are in full-time education compared with 3% of other people in employment.
  • 22% of people in employment on a ZHC are in the accommodation and food industry.
  • 11% of people employed in the accommodation and food industry are on a ZHC.

According to ONS these characteristics have shown little change over recent years, which is probably because these groups of people are more likely to find the flexibility of ZHCs an advantage, for example, young people who combine flexible working with their studies.

In addition, ONS figures show that someone on a ZHC usually works 25 hours a week. Around one in three people (32%) want more hours, with most wanting them in their current job, as opposed to a different job which offers more hours. In comparison 9% of other people in employment wanted more hours.

Call for Action from TUC

Responding to the latest figures, the TUC has called for all political parties to include a commitment to crack-down on ZHCs and other forms of insecure employment in their election manifestos.

In addition, it has called for:

  • People working regular hours to have a right to a guaranteed-hours contract.
  • People on variable-hours contracts to get overtime pay for hours outside of their contracts.
  • All workers to have a right to a written statement of terms, conditions and working hours, from day one.
  • Everyone at work to get the same rights as an employee, unless the employer can show that they are genuinely self-employed.
  • Agency workers should be entitled to the going rate for the job, on an equal basis with directly-employed workers.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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Laura Macdonald

Laura Macdonald

Employment Law Team

“I strive to provide clear and practical advice to clients, focussing on the individual or organisation’s particular circumstances and requirements.”

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