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The number of people on zero hours contracts has risen by 6% in a year, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics.
It said there were 744,000 people on a zero-hours contract in their main job, as of June 2015 – 2.4% of all people in employment. The same time last year 624,000 people reported being on zero hour contracts as their main job, or 2.0% of those in work.
The ONS says two thirds of the increase is from people in their job for more than a year and so the overall increase does not necessarily relate to new zero hours contracts. It says the increase could have been due either to people being more aware of the kind of the term or to people moving on to a zero-hours contract with the same employer.
Women made up 54% of those on zero hours contracts, compared with 47% of other workers. Zero-hours contracts were common among students, with 20% of people on them being in full-time education, compared with just 3% of other workers, said the ONS.
An ONS survey of employee contracts used by businesses also shows that there were around 1.5 million contracts that did not guarantee a minimum number of hours where some work was carried out in a particular fortnight in January 2015. This compares with 1.4 million such contracts where some work was done in the equivalent fortnight in January 2014. The ONS said this increase was not statistically significant.
Senior ONS statistician Nick Palmer said: “Both measures suggest there may have been a small trend towards more use of zero-hours contracts, although the usual margins of error associated with the surveys’ estimates mean that we cannot be certain of this. Moreover, as previously, the results from the Labour Force Survey might have been influenced by increased recognition of the term ‘zero hours contract’ among respondents.”
John Cridland CBI Director-General, said: “The focus should be on tackling bad practice, as the number of zero hours contracts is less important than ensuring that they benefit both the individual and their employer.
“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. For example, more than one third are young people taking their first steps in the labour market.
“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.”