Government statisticians will estimate number of zero hour contracts

After growing politicial opposition to zero hours contracts, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has announced that it will now be providing an estimate of the number employed on them.

From autumn 2013, one of ONS’s large-scale monthly business surveys will include some questions on zero-hours contracts so as to obtain robust data directly from employers. These will be asked on a quarterly basis with the first results expected to be published in early 2014.

The current estimate is based on an ad hoc analysis of employee responses collected in the regular Labour Force Survey (LFS). While the LFS is the largest household survey of any kind conducted in the UK, this question depends on employees knowing and correctly reporting their terms of employment.

Glen Watson, director general of the ONS, said

ONS's role is to provide reliable statistics that inform debate and improve decision making. We have followed the debate on zero-hours contracts and there is a clear need for better statistics. The best way to gather the information needed is to ask employers rather than individual employees. They are best placed to provide accurate information about the employment terms of their workforce. We plan to add some new questions to one of our business surveys to shed new light on this important issue.

Alexander Ehmann, head of regulatory policy at the Institute of Directors, warns that a clamp down on zero hours contracts could damage our recovery:

Unemployment levels in the UK currently sit at 7.8 per cent. Those who argue for the banning of one of the UK’s few flexibilities in the labour market should acknowledge that such a change would be likely to increase this figure. Half of our members say that the burden of employment law has stopped them taking on additional staff.

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