Zero-hour contracts reach million mark

5th August 2013

New research suggests that the number of workers on zero- hour contracts - those which offer no guarantee of hours or pay - is more widespread than thought.

Figures from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) show that there could be up to a million workers on zero-hour contracts - accounting for between three and four per cent of the UK's workforce. Of those surveyed, only 14 per cent said that their employer fails to provide sufficient hours each week.

Official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate, however, that there are only 250,000 people - less than one per cent of those in employment - on zero-hour contracts.

The use of zero-hour contracts has risen sharply in recent years, particularly in the retail and hospitality industries. They are seen as a cost-effective way of meeting short-term staffing needs, typically allowing firms to employ staff - often in low-paid jobs - who are 'on-call'.

The CIPD survey of over 1,000 employers found:

  • nearly a fifth (19 per cent) employ at least one person on a zero hours contract
  • those in the voluntary (24 per cent) and the public sectors (24 per cent) are more likely to use zero hours contracts than private sector employers (17 per cent)
  • the hotel, catering and leisure, education and healthcare sectors are most likely to employ zero-hours workers
  • organisations with 250 or more employees are more likely to use zero-hours contracts than smaller firms
  • zero-hour contract workers work an average of 19.5 hours per week.

The CIPD's CEO 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. 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."

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