Anyone who’s spent more than a little time on our pages will be familiar with our stance on zero hours contracts. The controversial agreements are far from being a new development but – as mentioned in our feature back in May – their use often seems to rocket during times of economic austerity. Perhaps then it isn’t surprising that fresh research commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and conducted by YouGov has revealed that the number of these contracts in play might total as many as one million – some four times figures reported by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
According to the study of more than 1,000 employers, a fifth had at least one employee on a zero hours contract. Amongst those making use of the contracts, the average proportion of employees on these contracts was approximately 16%. Therefore, at the most conservative estimate, well over 3% of the workforce are currently on zero hours contracts, meaning that the actual number used would be significantly higher than the 250,000 quoted by the ONS. It does seem that they are much more common amongst larger organisations than small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) though, with the 25% of the former making use of the agreements compared to just 11% amongst the latter.
Perhaps more striking though is the revelation that the majority of individuals employed on these contracts may not actually mind. Polling 148 individuals on zero hours contracts, the CIPD found that just 14% felt that their employer regularly didn’t provide enough hours to meet the costs of a basic standard of living. However, whilst this may sound like a comparatively low proportion, it is worth putting this into context – once you take into account the number of zero hours contracts, this still means that 140,000 individuals are going without sufficient work, something that does put a small dint in the current employment figures.
Commenting on the findings, the CEO of CIPD, 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.
“Zero hours contracts, used appropriately, can provide flexibility for employers and employees and can play a positive role in creating more flexible working opportunities (…) 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.”
Ultimately then, it seems for many that zero hours contracts are an acceptable fit. However, like any flexible working arrangement, this is only useful if it suits both parties and, in cases where people feel pressured into accepting any terms offered, it could still create rather inequitable relationships between employer and employee.