Zero-hours contracts allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work. They have attracted strong criticism from the unions who claim they are exploitative and unfair. The contracts, used by many large employers, mean employees work only when they are needed, and pay depends on how many hours are worked. The Office for National Statistics reported that there were 697,000 people in the UK on zero-hours contracts, representing 2.3% of the UK workforce. Of these, 72,000 are employed by retail and wholesale businesses – equivalent to about 1.8% of the sector’s workforce.
Nearly one in four unemployed adults in the UK have been offered zero-hours contracts, according to research which also shows that more than half who could have taken up a job on this basis turned it down.
The preference for no job rather than a zero-hours job is more prevalent among older job-seekers, according to the study by global jobs and recruitment marketplace Glassdoor, while the main reasons for rejecting the offers were the need for a guaranteed level of income in order to stop receiving benefits, and lack of trust in the prospective employers.
40% of unemployed adults said they would accept a zero-hours contract if they were offered one. By age group, this was as high as 47% among 16-24-year-olds and only 24% of those aged 55 years or older.
There is a strong reluctance to accept employment under these terms as almost half (47%) of people surveyed who were offered a job on this basis turned it down. Jon Ingham, of Glassdoor, said: “People who take zero-hours contracts generally do so because they feel they have to rather than they want to. This could be interpreted as employers exploiting the most vulnerable, namely people who really need the money.”