1m 'may be on zero-hours contracts'
The number of workers on zero-hours contracts could be one million - four times as high as official estimates, according to new research.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said its survey of 1,000 employers showed that one in five employed at least one person on a zero-hours contract, under which staff are not guaranteed work from one week to the next.
Firms in the voluntary and public sectors as well as the hotel, leisure and catering industries were most likely to use zero-hours contracts.
Separate research among almost 150 zero-hours contract workers revealed that only 14% said their employer failed to give them enough hours to have a basic standard of living. The workers polled averaged just under 20 hours a week and were most likely to be aged between 18 and 24 or over 55.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said last week that 250,000 people in the UK were on zero-hours contracts at the end of last year, 50,000 more than a previous estimate because of a change in the way the figures are calculated, although unions believe this is a huge under-estimate.
CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said: "Zero-hours contracts are a hot topic and our research suggests they are being used more commonly than the ONS figures would imply. However, the assumption that all zero-hours contracts are bad and the suggestion from some quarters that they should be banned should be questioned.
"There does need to be a closer look at what is meant by a zero-hours contract, the different forms that they take, and clearer guidance on what good and bad practice in their use looks like. This needs to consider both the advantages and disadvantages in practice for businesses and employees.
"Zero-hours contracts, used appropriately, can provide flexibility for employers and employees, and can play a positive role in creating more flexible working opportunities. This can, for example, allow parents of young children, carers, students and others to fit work around their home lives.
"However, for some this may be a significant disadvantage where they need more certainty in their working hours and earnings, and we need to ensure that proper support for employees and their rights are not being compromised through such arrangements. Zero-hours contracts cannot be used simply to avoid an employer's responsibilities to its employees."
The University and College Union (UCU) said zero-hours contracts denied staff the financial security or stability to operate on a month-to-month basis and denied students continuity with their teachers. President Simon Renton said: "Zero-hours contracts are the unacceptable underbelly of further and higher education as staff are denied full employee status and key employment rights. Students miss out on a lack of continuity and often receive reduced access to staff employed on minimal hours."