Belfast Telegraph

Number employed on zero hours contracts remains unchanged at 1.7m

The total number of zero hours contracts remained unchanged at the end of last year at 1.7 million, new figures have shown.

The number, from a survey in November, represented 6% of all employment contracts, compared to 5% last May, but the total was the same.

The total and percentage of contracts not guaranteeing a minimum number of hours were unchanged from November 2015, although the number of businesses using them fell, said the Office for National Statistics.

Previous data has shown that 905,000 workers were employed on zero hours contracts in their main job.

People on zero hours contracts are more likely to be young, part-time, women or in full-time education when compared with other people in employment, said the ONS.

On average, someone on a zero hours contract usually works 25 hours a week, with one in three wanting more hours.

The total number of zero hours contracts was 1.4 million at the start of 2014, rising to 2.1 million in mid-2015 before falling to 1.7 million.

Almost one in four businesses employing over 250 staff make some use of zero hours contracts, compared with one in 20 firms with fewer than 10 employees.

Almost one in five organisations in education used zero hours contracts compared with one in 25 in public administration, said the ONS report.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Today's figures show that without government action, zero hours contracts will remain a reality for many people.

"While it's good that some companies are moving away from using them, there are a staggering 1.7 million zero hours contracts still in use.

"Let's not pretend that life at the sharp end of the labour market is getting easier.

"There is growing evidence of firms employing staff on short-hours contracts to avoid the bad PR associated with zero-hours jobs.

"These contracts guarantee as little as one hour a week, and like zero hours contracts leave workers at the beck and call of their bosses.

"Every party manifesto must have real commitments to crack down on zero-hours contracts and other forms of insecure work."

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: "From exploitative zero and short hours contracts to bogus self-employment, the world of work has become increasingly insecure as bad bosses seek out ever more creative ways of exploiting workers to boost profits and dodge their responsibilities.

"With a shocking 3.8 million people experiencing in-work poverty it's high time that work in this country paid and the misery of insecure work was eradicated.

"An incoming government must heed the growing chorus of concern by banning zero hours contracts, strengthening work place rights and promoting strong trade unions and collective bargaining as part of a package for decent well paid work."

Dr Carole Easton, chief executive of the Young Women's Trust, said: "Zero hours contracts and low pay are leaving young people struggling to make ends meet.

"Budgeting, paying your bills and planning ahead can be impossible when you don't know how much money you will have coming in each month.

"Zero hours contracts, many of which exploit young women, are used far too often.

"Young Women's Trust research shows that one in three young women has been offered a contract with no guaranteed hours."

Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors, said: " While the overall trend shows the number of businesses making use of these contracts falling, the picture is mixed, as some firms are moving away from using them, while others are becoming increasingly reliant on them.

"There has been a slight uptick in the number of people on zero hours contracts reporting that they would like to work more hours, perhaps a sign that falling real wages are beginning to bite.

"Some employers, including charities and healthcare providers, will continue to need the flexibility that zero hours contracts enable.

"However, the recent move away from these contracts at firms including McDonald's, Curzon and Everyman cinemas, JD Wetherspoon, Greene King and others, is to be welcomed as a sign that employers are listening to employee concerns and adapting to meet the needs of their workforce."

Conor D'Arcy, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: "Today's figures provide more evidence that the rapid rise in zero hours contract use looks to have come to an end.

"It's likely that this reflects a combination of workers seeking alternatives in a healthier jobs market and firms recognising that they don't always represent an appropriate option."

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