There were 1.7m zero-hours contracts in the UK in November 2016, representing 6% of all employment contracts – unchanged from a year earlier. The Office for National Statistics said the number of firms using zero-hours contracts had fallen.
Employees on zero-hours contracts are not guaranteed a minimum number of hours in any given week. The contracts have been widely used by retailers, restaurants, leisure companies and hotels, including Sports Direct and McDonald’s, and tend to be most commonly used at larger firms.
There could be a number of reasons why the use of such contracts had stalled, including the bad press received by firms using them and the record employment rate, which could mean companies were struggling to attract workers if they did not guarantee hours of work.
Conor D’Arcy, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation thinktank said the figures were not necessarily an indication that insecure work was becoming less of a problem in Britain. “Agency work, short-hours contracts and self-employment have all grown substantially in recent years, increasing the number of people in ‘atypical’ work,” he added.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said the latest figures were no cause for celebration and that firms were finding other ways to employ people on insecure terms. “While it’s good that some companies are moving away from using them, there are a staggering 1.7m zero-hours contracts still in use.
“Let’s not pretend that life at the sharp end of the labour market is getting easier. There is growing evidence of firms employing staff on short-hours contracts to avoid the bad PR associated with zero-hours jobs. These contracts guarantee as little as one hour a week and, like zero-hours contracts, leave workers at the beck and call of their bosses.”