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5.5m on zero hours contracts: study

The number of workers on zero hours contracts could be as high as 5.5 million, suggesting a "growing sub class" of insecure, low paid employment, according to new research.

A study of 5,000 members of the Unite union found that more than one in five were on zero hours contracts - under which workers do not know if they have work from one week to the next - earning an average of £500 a month.

The figure is more than five times higher than previous estimates and was described as "staggering" by the union.

The study, by the social survey company Mass1, said to be the largest of its kind on the subject, suggested that the under 30s are more likely to be on a zero hours contract with half of respondents falling into the 16-30 category.

Unite said the findings also pointed to employers using zero hours contracts to avoid paying holiday pay and sick pay, with just over a third saying they do not get holiday pay and 77% receiving no sick pay. Only around one in seven said they wanted to stay on the zero-hours contracts, which the union maintained "bust a hole" in arguments that a majority of workers choose them.

The research comes ahead of a debate on employment rights on the first day of the TUC congress in Bournemouth.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "The Government's refusal to address the growing scandal of zero hours contracts is creating a growing sub class of insecure and low paid employment.

"Employers are exploiting zero hour contracts to dodge holiday and sick pay. This latest mutation of precarious working is leaving workers in limbo, unable to plan how much they will earn or when they will work from one week to the next.

"It is a growing scandal of our times that is denying workers access to mortgages, renting a home and even getting a mobile phone.

"An economy built on the back of insecure work and exploitation will not deliver a sustainable recovery. We need urgent action to end the growth of this pernicious form of employment and to end this Government's never-ending attacks on workers' rights."

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