The number of workers on zero-hours contracts hits new high of 910,000 - but the rise is slowing

 
Rebecca Smith
Zero-hours contracts have proved divisive: some say they're exploitative, others think they offer crucial flexibility
Zero-hours contracts have proved divisive: some say they're exploitative, others think they offer crucial flexibility (Source: Getty)

The number of people on controversial zero-hours contracts (ZHCs) has reached a record high of 910,000.

According to the think tank the Resolution Foundation, which analysed data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), a further 110,000 people were added onto these contracts in 2016; nearly 14 per cent more than 2015 and 30 per cent higher than 2014.

Read more: Zero-hours workers earn £1,000 a year less than typical employees

In 2005, there were just 100,000 people on zero-hour contracts. The figures do, though, note a sharp slowing in the rate of increase over the last six months of 2016.

"It's notable that the increase of 0.8 per cent in the second half of 2016 compares to a 7.6 per cent rise over the same period in 2015," said Conor D'Arcy, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation. "Ever since ZHCs hit the headlines the numbers have increased sharply every six months. The latest figures bring this run to an end."

Zero-hours contracts allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work, but some say they also provide flexibility to those who need it, from students to those with caring responsibilities. The worker doesn't have to accept work offered.

The think tank said there were several reasons why the boom in ZHCs is slowing. "Firstly, slower employment growth overall is likely to have played a role," D'Arcy said. "Second, the ONS has frequently pointed to growing awareness among employees on these contracts as a factor in their rise."

Read more: Zero-hours contracts leap - but it's not what you think

A third measure relates to the debate over ZHC's shelf life.

"With the employment rate at a record high, and the first inklings that firms may think the supply of labour from the EU could be limited after Brexit, it may be that finding people willing to work on these terms is growing tougher," D'Arcy added.

It's expected that the government will make the issue of ZHCs and the related issue around the gig economy, where temporary positions are common, a key issue in next week's Budget.

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