Business groups have defended zero-hours contracts after official figures showed that the number of people on contracts with no guarantee of a minimum number of hours has increased by almost 20 per cent in the last year.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of people on zero-hours contracts as their main job has increased from 624,000 to 744,000 in the last 12 months.
The figure equates to about 2.4 per cent of all people in employment, up from two per cent this time last year.
“These figures, which show zero hours contracts are a small proportion of the UK labour market, again illustrate that they are most common among groups where flexibility benefits both parties,” said Confederation of British Industry (CBI) director-general John Cridland, adding, “Labour market flexibility continues to be a great asset to the UK economy, helping to increase the participation rate of parents – women in particular – and of older workers.”
The ONS said that women made up 54 per cent of people on zero-hours contracts in the last year.
Students, who tend to take on jobs with flexible hours in order to work around class schedules, made up 20 per cent of the zero-hours workforce, the ONS said. Just three per cent of the wider workforce are full-time students.
Institute of Economic Affairs director general Mark Littlewood said that the data “illustrates the flexible nature of the UK’s labour market”.
“Not everyone is able to work at fixed and regular times and adaptable contracts such as these offer the opportunity of employment to students, single parents and many more,” he added.
Institute of Directors (IoD) director of policy James Sproule agreed, saying: “For skilled professionals, a degree of flexibility can boost their earning power, while flexibility also suits students and older people – the main users of zero hours contracts – who cannot commit to a set number of hours each and every week.”
FACT CHECK: WHAT DO WORKERS REALLY THINK ABOUT ZERO-HOURS CONTRACTS?
Zero-hours workers are just as satisfied with their job as average employees. In a recent poll conducted by the CIPD, sixty per cent of zero-hours workers said they were satisfied with their job, compared with 59 per cent of average employees.
People on zero-hours contracts are actually happier than ordinary workers. The CIPD found that 65 per cent of people on zero-hours contracts said they are happy with their work-life balance, compared with 58 per cent of average workers.
The CIPD found that zero-hours workers are two per cent less likely to be treated unfairly by their employer than average workers.
According to the ONS, the average worker on a zero-hours contract puts in 25 hours per week. About 40 per cent of them want more hours – but most say they would rather stay in their current job than move to one with a fixed contract.
Eighty per cent of workers on a zero-hours contacts say they are never penalised by their employer if they turn down work.
Three-quarters of employers who use zero-hours contracts say that workers on such arrangements are eligible for training and development activities in the workplace.
Source: CIPD research on zero-hours contracts, November 2013