Majority in zero hours jobs ‘trapped’, says TUC

New analysis by the TUC shows the majority of zero-hours workers have been in their roles for over a year, with just 9% citing work life balance as a reason for zero hours working.

Minimum Wage Employee Works in a Fast Food Kitchen


Two out of three zero-hours contract workers have been with their current employer for over a year, according to analysis by the TUC, which says this shows how workers are being trapped in low-pay and insecurity.

The analysis, based mainly on the Labour Force Survey data 2023 Q4, shows almost half (46%) of zero-hours contract workers have been with their current employer for over two years, with 12% having been with their current employer for over 10 years.

Only a minority of zero hours contract workers are on the precarious contracts as a stop gap, temporary measure, says the TUC. Just 7% of zero-hours workers have been with their current employer less than three months.

TUC polling in 2021 showed that by far the most important reason that people take zero-hours contract work is because that is the only work available. Almost half (45%) of respondents said that this was the most important reason for them being on zero-hours contracts while 16% said it was the typical contract in their line of work. Just 9% cited work-life balance as the most important reason – and the TUC says many in this group would prefer the opportunity to work flexibly within a secure job.

According to the latest available data, 1.15 million people are on zero-hours contracts. Black and minority ethnic (BME) women are  nearly three times as likely to be on zero-hours contracts as white men (6.8% compared to 2.5%),

The TUC says zero-hours contracts hand the employer total control over workers’ hours and earning power, meaning workers never know how much they will earn each week, with their income subject to the whims of managers.

The union body argues that this makes it hard for workers to plan their lives, budget and look after their children.

And it makes it harder for workers to challenge unacceptable behaviour by bosses because of concerns about whether they will be penalised by not being allocated hours in future.

Such insecurity can be particularly challenging for those who have caring responsibilities, who are overwhelmingly women, says the TUC.

The TUC says a ban on zero-hours contracts is “long overdue” – and is calling for all workers to have a right to a contract that reflects their regular hours. Labour is promising a ban on zero-hours contracts as part of its New Deal for Working People.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “Everyone should be treated fairly at work. But too many workers – especially Black and ethnic minority women – are trapped in low-paid jobs on zero-hours contracts, with few rights and protections and no guarantee of shifts.

“Bad employers are parking workers on zero hours contracts for years on end. It’s not right.”

Commenting on reports in The Times on business calls to scale back Labour’s New Deal for Working People, alongside a poll showing the plans are “extremely popular” with the public, Nowak said: “Employers need to get on board with Labour’s New Deal for Working People – and good employers will.

“The UK’s long experiment with a low-rights, low-wage economy is a complete failure.”

A report from the Work Foundation at Lancaster University estimates half a million British workers fell into insecure employment last year, including zero hours and self-employed work. It puts the total number of people in unstable employment at 6.8m, which equates to 21% of the active labour force.

Meanwhile, a report from abrdn Financial Fairness Trust says many middle-income earners are facing job insecurity due to self employment, working for their present employer for less than two years or less than three years if working part time or being in low paid full-time jobs. High housing costs and rising prices are to blame, said the report – Caught in the Middle – which highlighted that the problems were worst for single parents, with those in work more likely than not to be in an insecure job.

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