Unemployment figures are on the decline and but not all those that are in employment are being given sufficient hours. Zero-hours contracts can be a blessing for bosses seeking flexible work but for employees they can be a double-edged sword, bringing in much-needed income without providing any guarantees in return.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) carried out two research studies and found in January 2014, 1.4 million zero-hours contracts were used by UK firms. This number grew exponentially; by August 2014, there were 1.8 million people employed on zero-hour contracts. ONS found that the number of people relying on a zero-hours contract for their main job was 679,000 for the period from October to December 2014.
A zero-hours contract does not guarantee a minimum number of hours of paid employment but the ONS found that workers on a zero-hours contract worked an average 25 hours. The majority of workers on a zero-hours contract were women, students and carers, suggesting that the flexibility of the contracts often suits working parents, carers and those in full-time education. Many of these contracts could be attributed to seasonal industries covering seasonal work. The ONS also stated that the figures could vary as people might not know what a zero-hours contract is.
One in five employers has at least one staff member on a zero-hours contract. The TUC found that two in five of those on zero-hours contracts were paid less than £111 per week and did not qualify for statutory sick pay.
“Zero-hours contracts are valued by many employers and individuals who want flexibility in the hours they work, such as students, people with caring responsibilities and those who want to partially retire,” says Vince Cable, business secretary. “However, historically there has also been some abuse in these types of contracts,” Cable added. He fears that many employers are writing clauses into employee contracts that forbid them from seeking additional employment to suit their needs. The government intends to introduce rules that mean employers cannot contract an employee solely to themselves.
Fear not though; it seems zero-hours contracts are unlikely to be the future of work, as the ONS showed that zero-hours contacts represented just 2.3% of all those in employment. So hopefully there won’t be too many of you out there unsure when your next pay cheque is coming in.