The news has prompted calls from unions for a ban on this type of working agreement, although only 14% of those employed in this manner said they don’t get sufficient working hours each week.
‘The fact that zero-hours contracts have increased across the economy is further evidence of how tough it can be for people at work under this Government,’ said Francis O’Grady, the TUC general secretary.
‘People are being made to feel grateful for any kind of employment regardless of the pay, terms and conditions.’
Zero hours contracts, which stipulate employees must be available for work but don’t get an agreed number of hours each week, are commonly used by employers to create a more flexible workforce. Defendants say they help to react to market demands, scaling back on shifts when it’s needed. But unions have complained they put the balance of power solely with employers, making it impossible for employees to complain.
The situation flared up last week when it emerged some 90% of Sports Direct employees, all of its part-time workforce, are on zero hours contracts. Juxtaposed with the fact 2,000 of its full-time staff are about to cash in bumper bonuses of up to £100,000 – it has caused something of a fuss. Protests took place over the weekend outside stores in several cities across the UK.
According to the survey, firms in the voluntary and public sector were more likely to use the method of employment than private companies.
Economically speaking, the problem is that widespread use of zero hours contracts could be skewing our employment figures, given such a large quantity of ‘employed’ people may not be working at all.
Vince Cable has elected to review the contracts saying, ‘For some these can be the right sort of employment contract, giving workers a choice of working patterns.’
‘However, for a contract that is now more widely used, we know relatively little about its effect... There has been anecdotal evidence of abuse by certain employers - including in the public sector.’
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has supported calls for a formal consultation, claiming zero hours contracts should be the exception to the rule rather than modus operandi. But with the news emerging over the weekend some 150 people are employed on zero hours contracts at the House of Commons, potentially red-faced Umunna and Cable needn’t look too far to see the ‘effects’ of the them.