The number of workers on zero-hours contracts in the UK has increased by 19% to 744,000 over the past year

Tim Lezard Europe, UK, GMB, UCU, Precarity, Zero hours

Zero hour contracts protestThe number of workers on zero-hours contracts in the UK has increased by 19% to 744,000 over the past year.

Unions condemned the rise, with TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady saying: “Zero-hours contracts are a stark reminder of Britain’s two-tier workforce. People employed on these contracts earn £300 a week less, on average, than workers in secure jobs.

“I challenge any minister or business leader to survive on a low-paid zero-hours contract job, not knowing from one day to the next how much work they will have.

“Try telling zero-hours workers who have been turned down by mortgage lenders and landlords that they are getting a good deal.

“We need a stronger and fairer recovery that works for everyone, not one that forces people to survive off scraps of work.”

Research published by the TUC shows that average weekly earnings for zero-hours workers are just £188, compared to £479 for permanent workers.

Two-fifths (39%) of zero-hours workers earn less than £111 a week – the qualifying threshold for statutory sick pay – compared to one in twelve 8% permanent employees.

The TUC estimates that in addition to Britain’s zero-hours workforce there are another 820,000 UK employees who report being underemployed on between 0 and 19 hours a week.

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: “All across the economy the deal employers are offering workers is seriously decreased while workers often have little alternative but to accept what is on offer but workers are fighting back.

“One example is at the ASOS depot in Barnsley where GMB members are campaigning for fixed hours. Another is the kitchens at Staverton Park Hotel near Daventry owned by the De Vere Group. GMB had to fight for permanent hours contracts for some of them who were on zero hour contracts for nearly four years. We have had similar problems with zero hours at Marks and Spencer depot in Swindon where members employed by an agency are campaigning for parity with permanent staff on fixed hours.”

The UCU pointed to its own research which shows that two-fifths (42%) of university and college staff on casual contracts struggle to pay their bills and a third (34%) have had problems getting a mortgage.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “It is unacceptable that the number of zero-hours contracts is still rising- they are exploitative and damaging for staff. Our own research shows that many people on these contracts struggle to make ends meet, and can’t plan for the future because they just don’t know how many hours they’ll get to work.

“These contracts offer no job security and restrict opportunities for people to progress in their careers. The flexibility which they offer employers is not a two-way street, and leads to greater uncertainty for employees. We need to reverse this trend and ensure that everyone who wants a proper contract with guaranteed hours can get one.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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