Almost 50% of the UKís largest businesses have members of their staff on their books on zero hour contracts, with an estimated 1.4 million workers now believed to be on the precarious payment packages, a study from the Office for National Statistics has outlined.
The number of estimated zero hour contract workers in the ONSís latest study is substantially higher than the previous estimate of 583,000 made recently, and will increase the pressure on the government to undertake an investigation of their usage at present.
Under the terms and conditions of zero-hour contracts, workers are not given a fixed number of hours to work, instead being utilised by their employer on a rolling basis, and paid in accordance to
They have garnered widespread criticism from a number of Trade Union groups and the Labour party for promoting exploitation of the financially vulnerable and enabling employers to underpay their employees and prevent them from having a suitable amount of working hours.
The ONS added that their research suggested that most zero hour contract users tend to have more than one job, which within itself is implicit that employees using the contracts are either underpaid or do not receive a sufficient number of hours to subsidise their cost of living.
Last week, Labour party leader Ed Miliband hit out at the ëepidemicí of zero hour contracts, echoing the sentiment that the contracts result in workers being underpaid or underused, and pledged to launch a crusade to come down hard on them should his party win the 2015 General Election.
However, Business Secretary Vince Cable has rejected recent criticism of the contracts arguing that they grant employers ëwelcome flexibilityí, and ruled out instigating a full ban on their usage.
The study identified that over 20% of health and social workers in employment at present are using zero-hour contracts, while very few people working in finance have been employed with the contracts.
Students and women under 25 and over 65 were identified as being the most frequent user groups of zero hour contracts, with the ONS arguing that “these patterns may partly reflect the groups most likely to find the flexibility of ‘zero-hours contracts’ an advantage,”.
However, considering the huge level of youth unemployment in the country at present, the data also suggests that young aspiring workers and university graduates are being forced to settle for zero hour contract in order to deal with their new found expenditure demands and employers are capitalising on this financial vulnerability by employing them on a rolling basis.
The Trade Union Congress has argued that the data illustrates that the British job market is far less stable than the government has made out, and has called for ministers to act now and address the ìabuseî of zero hour contracts by employers.
“Insecure work with no guarantee of regular paid hours is no longer confined to the fringes of the jobs market,” said Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary.
“It is worrying that so many young people are trapped on zero-hours contracts, which can hold back their careers and make it harder to pay off debts like student loans.
“The fact that these contracts have become the norm in tourism, catering and food will be a major concern for the millions of people employed in these industries.”