Zero Hour Contracts

Zero-hours contracts are unpopular with workers

Beckett Frith, JULY 10, 2017

Just 35% of UK adults would consider taking on a zero-hours contract

Three-quarters (73%) of workers would request fixed hours from their employer if they were on a zero-hours contract, according to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The survey of more than 2,000 UK adults found that just 35% of respondents would consider taking on a zero-hours contract. Millennials were the most likely to consider this kind of employment, with some 58% of 18- to 34-year-olds open to the idea compared with just 30% of those over 55. Likewise, while zero-hours contracts would be considered by 35% of respondents overall, 45% of Millennials say they would take a zero-hours contract, falling to just 24% among over-55s.

However, while 77% of the people surveyed prefer full-time employment, 45% would consider gig work (defined as short-term, casual work, typically organised or facilitated via mobile phone apps) or already work in this way. This number would rise if employment rights improved significantly, with two in five (41%) people saying it would make them more likely to take up gig work. 

Julian Sansum, employment partner at PwC, said employees need a better deal. “A flexible labour force is one of the UK’s strengths, and key to driving competitiveness and productivity,” he said. “But it needs to be a win-win for both employers and workers. Our research shows that while many workers are open to the idea of gig working, for others concerns over job security and being able to generate sufficient income still outweigh the benefits this type of work can offer.

“A balance needs to be struck between promoting flexibility and ensuring employees have sufficient employment rights and protections. For gig working to prosper we need a tax system that is simple, workable, efficient and does not lead to distortions. Offering education and training alongside increased workers’ rights will be vital to ensure that people are able to move easily between different roles and that no one gets left behind as the job market evolves.”

Phillip Pepper, employment partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, explained the impact this would have on current worker classifications. “In asking for a change to employment legislation that would allow flexible workers to be offered benefits such as sick pay and insurance, Deliveroo is essentially calling for a fourth classification of worker,” he said. “This new category would allow employees to be in control of their working hours while enjoying some of the rights afforded to full-time staff.”


Depending on conditions of employment, a zero-hour contract may differ from casual work or seasonal worker contracts. The Workers of England campaign against all contracts which try to exploit or restrict a person from earning a living wage whilst maintaining their work life balance.

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The Workers of England Union supports the formation of the English Trades Union Congress (ETUC) in line with the Scottish Trades Union Council (STUC) and Wales Trades Union Congress (WTUC)

Update 27th April 2015

Zero-hours contracts just the “tip of the iceberg” claims British TUC

Zero-hours contracts just the “tip of the iceberg” claims the TUC

Zero-hours contracts are “just the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to low-paid and insecure jobs claims new analysis from the British Trade Union Congress (TUC).

The report showed that in addition to the 700,000 workers who report being on zero-hours contracts, there are another 820,000 UK employees who report being underemployed on between 0 and 19 hours a week.

The TUC urged that while zero-hours contracts have dominated the media headlines, short hours-contracts, along with other forms of insecure work, are also blighting the lives of many workers.

Underemployed short-hours workers are typically paid a much lower hourly rate than other employees. The average hourly wage for a short-hours worker on fewer than 20 hours a week is £8.40 an hour, compared to £13.20 an hour for all employees.

The TUC said that short-hours contracts, which can guarantee as little as one hour a week, can allow employers to get out of paying national insurance contributions.

The average underemployed short-hours worker would have to work more than 18 hours a week for their employer to start having to pay national insurance for their employment.

The TUC asserted that like zero-hours workers, many short-hours workers do not know how many shifts they will get each week and often have to compete with colleagues for extra hours.

Women are particularly at risk of becoming trapped on short-hour contracts, said the TUC, as they account for nearly three-quarters at 71.5%, of underemployed employees on short-hours contracts.

Retail is the worst affected sector. Nearly a third, at 29% of underemployed short-hour workers are employed in supermarkets, shops, warehouses and garages – nearly 250,000 people.

Education, at 16%, accommodation and food services, with 14% and health and social care, at 12% also account for large shares.

The growth in low-paid, insecure jobs since the crash has been bad for workers and the public finances, said the TUC, with taxpayers having to subsidise poverty pay through tax credits.

The TUC added that short-hour and zero-hours contracts, along with low-paid and bogus self-employment, have reduced tax revenues and are dragging down UK productivity.

Self-employment has accounted for nearly a third of the net rise in employment since 2010. Figures published last summer by the Office for National Statistics show that average earnings for self-employed workers have fallen by 22% since 2008/09.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Zero-hours contracts are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to low-paid, insecure work. Hundreds of thousands of other workers find themselves trapped on short-hours contracts that simply do not guarantee enough hours for them to make ends meet.

“Like zero-hours contracts, short-hour contracts give too much power to the employer. Bosses have an incentive to offer low wages and fewer hours to get out of paying national insurance. Without more decent jobs, people will continue to have to survive off scraps of work and UK productivity will continue to tank.”

The Workers of England Union supports the formation of the English Trades Union Congress (ETUC) in line with the Scottish Trades Union Council (STUC) and Wales Trades Union Congress (WTUC)

Are you on a zero hours contract? What has your experience of it been? You can email with your experience. The Workers of England Union campaigns against Zero Contract hours. Also if any member of your family or friends is on Zero Contract hours, please mention the Workers of England Union to them. We are here to help improve your working conditions.

 25 February 2015 BBC News

UK firms used 1.8m zero-hours contracts, says ONS

Some workers are unhappy about zero-hours contracts but others say it suits them

Firms in the UK used 1.8 million zero-hours contracts at the height of last summer, official statistics show.

The total, in the first two weeks of August, was higher than the 1.4 million contracts revealed when figures were first collected in January last year.

This is likely to be the result of a number of seasonal industries using more of these contracts, making a direct comparison difficult.

Zero-hours contracts do not guarantee a minimum number of hours of employment.

Some workers and unions are unhappy that staff can simply be sent home if there is no work to be done. But supporters of the contracts like the flexibility that they can offer.


The retail sector is one that often uses zero-hours contracts

Additional data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that 697,000 workers said they were on a “zero-hours contract” in their main job between October to December last year.

This represents 2.3% of all people in employment.

This figure, collected in a survey, is reliant on these workers being fully aware that they are on a zero-hours contract.

The ONS said that a rise on the 586,000 workers who said they were on zero-hours contracts during the same period in 2013 could be the result of greater awareness and publicity for these kind of contracts.

Zero-hours contracts explained

  • One in five employers has at least one employee on a zero-hours contract
  • Staff have no guaranteed hours
  • The contracts are often used in retail and in the hospitality sector

What are zero-hours contracts?

David Freeman, of the ONS, said that some of the greater awareness of zero-hours contracts was among people who had been in these types of jobs for more than a year.

On average, someone on a zero-hours contract usually worked 25 hours a week, the ONS said. The majority were women and students, often aged under 25 or 65 and over.

About a third of them wanted more hours, primarily in their current job, compared with 10% of other people in employment.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Zero-hours contracts sum up what has gone wrong in the modern workplace. They shift almost all power from the worker and give it to their boss.”

Chuka Umunna, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said: “Ministers have watered down every person’s rights at work and zero-hours contracts have gone from being a niche concept to becoming the norm in parts of our economy.”

But Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “Zero-hours contracts are valued by many employers and individuals who want flexibility in the hours they work, such as students, people with caring responsibilities and those who want to partially retire.

“However, historically there has also been some abuse in these types of contracts.”

The government is ensuring rules mean that employers cannot tie workers down exclusively to their zero-hours contract. They should allow these workers to take up employment elsewhere too.

Analysis: Anthony Reuben, head of statistics, BBC News

These figures are more frustrating than enlightening.

We know that the number of people saying they have a zero-hours contract has risen, but maybe they just did not know before. Remember that 45% of the increase was from people who had worked with such contracts for more than a year, suggesting that awareness was a big issue.

As for the figures from asking employers, there is little point comparing January figures for such contracts with August figures because industries such as retail, agriculture and hospitality have huge seasonal variations. So some politicians and pressure groups may say that the number of people on zero hours contracts has risen, but we do not really have the statistics to back that up.

Why work more? We should be working less for a better quality of life

Our society tolerates long working hours for some and zero hours for others. This doesn’t make sense

David Spencer for Europp, part of the Guardian Comment Network

Tuesday 4 February 2014 15.51 GMT Last modified on Tuesday 3 June 2014 06.11 BST

The focus of conventional employment policy is on creating “more work“. People without work and in receipt of benefits are viewed as a drain on the state and in need of assistance or direct coercion to get them into work. There is the belief that work is the best form of welfare and that those who are able to work ought to work. This particular focus on work has come at the expense of another, far more radical policy goal, that of creating “less work”. Yet, as I will argue below, the pursuit of less work could provide a route to a better standard of life, including a better quality of work life.

The idea that society might work less in order to enjoy life more goes against standard thinking that celebrates the virtue and discipline of hard work. Dedication to work, so the argument goes, is the best route to prosperity. There is also the idea that work offers the opportunity for self-realisation, adding to the material benefits from work. “Do what you love” in work, we are told, and success will follow.

But ideologies such as the above are based on a myth that work can always set us free and provide us with the basis for a good life. As I have written elsewhere, this mythologising about work fails to confront – indeed it actively conceals – the acute hardships of much work performed in modern society. For many, work is about doing what you hate.

Here I want to address another issue that is overlooked in conventional policy debates. This is the need to diminish work. Working less presents several advantages. One is the opportunity to overcome the anomaly of overwork for some and unemployment for others. Sharing out work more evenly across the available population by reducing average working time would enable those who work too much to work less and those do not work at all to partake in some work. Another advantage is the opportunity to enhance the quality of work by reducing drudgery and extending opportunities for creative activity in work. Reducing work time, in this sense, can be as much about realising the intrinsic rewards of work as reducing its burdensome qualities.

Economists may cry foul that a reduction in working time will add to firm costs and lead to job losses (mainstream economics accuses advocates of shorter work hours of succumbing to the “lump of labour fallacy” and of failing to see the extra costs of hiring additional workers on shorter hours contracts). One retort to this is that longer work hours are not that productive. Shorter work hours may actually be more productive if they increase the morale and motivation of workers. In practice, we could achieve the same standard of living with fewer hours of work.

But the more profound question is whether we should be asking society to tolerate long work hours for some and zero work hours for others. Surely society can achieve a more equitable allocation of work that offers everyone enough time to work and enough time to do what they want? A reduction in work time, it can be argued here, would offer a route to such an allocation.

There is also the deeper issue of whether we should be measuring the value of our lives by what we produce. The cult of productivity crowds out other more “leisurely” ways of living that can add to human wellbeing. Challenging this cult and seeking ways to lighten the burden of work could allow us all to live better lives inside and outside of work.

Arguments for shorter work time have a long history. Keynes, for example, gave support to a reduction in working time as a way of achieving full employment. In a letter to the poet TS Eliot in 1945, Keynes suggested that less work represented the “ultimate solution” to unemployment. Keynes also saw merit in using productivity gains to reduce work time and famously looked forward to a time (around 2030) when people would be required to work 15 hours a week. Working less was a part of Keynes’s vision of a “good society“.

Marx, from a radically different perspective, saw a reduction in working time as an essential ingredient of a future communist society. Work was part of the “realm of necessity” and via the use of technology it could be curtailed as a way to expand the “realm of freedom” in which people could realise their creative capacities in activities of their own choosing. Marx importantly thought that under communism work in the “realm of necessity” could be fulfilling as it would elicit and harness the creativity of workers. Whatever irksome work remained in the realm of necessity under communism again could be lessened by the harnessing of technology.

Yet another advocate of shorter work time was JS Mill. He dismissed the “gospel of work” proposed by Thomas Carlyle in part because it drew a veil over the real costs of work, including slave work that Carlyle sought to defend. Instead, Mill advocated a “gospel of leisure”, arguing that technology should be used to curtail work time as far as possible. This stress on technology as a means to shorten work time was later to feature in Bertrand Russell’s 1932 essay, “In Praise of Idleness”.

The essential ideas of the above writers resonate still today. They cut through romantic views of work and show how human progress depends on society performing less, not more, work. Although developed in radically different ways, their ideas point to a future where the burden of work is lighter and more time is available for free creative activity. At least in the case of Marx, there is still the prospect of turning work into a fulfilling activity, but the latter objective is seen as achievable only within the context of a situation in which work time is reduced. Less work is seen as a necessary foundation for better work.

Ultimately, the reduction in working time is about creating more opportunities for people to realise their potential in all manner of activities including within the work sphere. Working less, in short, is about allowing us to live more. Let’s work to achieve it.

Acas expert advisers discuss zero hours contracts (ZHCs), what they are, how they work and common questions raised from employees and employers.

Telegraph Article

Zero-hours contracts ‘save UK from eurozone levels of unemployment’

Business groups defend companies who use zero-hour contracts after new figures reveal 697,000 people in the UK are on them

The Office for National Statistics has revealed that 697,000 people, or 2.3pc of the workforce, are on zero-hours contracts Photo: Alamy

By Andrew Trotman

8:33PM GMT 25 Feb 2015

Business groups have defended companies using zero-hours contracts, arguing that they have protected the UK from the high levels of unemployment seen on the continent.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) and Confederation of British Industry (CBI) both spoke out on Wednesday after figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that 697,000 people, or 2.3pc of the workforce, are on zero-hours contracts.

Use of the contracts, which do not guarantee working hours with a company, has become a key political issue in the run-up to the general election, with Labour leader Ed Miliband calling for them to be banned.

However, business groups said the flexibility the contracts offer workers and businesses is an asset to the UK economy.

“For hundreds of thousands of workers and employers these contracts represent an extremely attractive proposition,” Christian May of the IoD said.

“A flexible labour market, of which zero-hours contracts are a vital component, has protected the UK from European levels of unemployment. The alternative is a rigid labour market and high unemployment.”

The latest data from Eurostat revealed unemployment in the eurozone stood at 11.4pc at the end of 2014. Despite this figure being the lowest since August 2012, it is still well above the UK’s 5.7pc.

Neil Carberry, director for employment and skills at CBI, said: “Flexible contracts offer an important source of job creation that supports business growth and employees who need to manage different responsibilities.

“The range of options on offer in the UK is why we are continuing to create thousands of new jobs, and have … lower unemployment than many other countries.”