Jodie Bailey zeros in on zero hours

The statistics from the TUC and the ONS are worrying to say the least. Last year the number of people relying on zero-hour contracts for their main source of income increased by 13 percent.

Approximately 905,000 people depend on these insecure contracts, and out of these people, most of them are young, female or from ethnic minority backgrounds. And in total at the end of 2016, 1.7 million people were working on a zero-hour basis up from 1.4 million in 2014.

But surely these are positive statistics? Rather than being unemployed, these people have jobs, and, in an increasingly competitive job market, we should be grateful for what we are given.

Well, yes – and no. Zero-hour contracts are exactly that. 0 hours. And if demand falls, those 0 hours may translate into £0.

Employees are not obliged to work specific hours, but that comes with the risk that employers are also not obliged to give employees any hours at all, which can be a disquieting prospect for the almost 1 million people who rely on these contracts as their primary source of income.

Whole families may depend upon the whim of an employer who refuses to give hours when demand falls. Aside from the financial insecurity that accompanies zero-hour contracts, the legalities of the situation vary enormously and consequently individuals who work on these contracts may sometimes be classed as either workers, or employees, or even self-employed, meaning that the rights of these individuals can be difficult to determine.

However, that is not to say that zero-hour contracts do not have their advantages too. For businesses and workers alike, zero-hour contracts offer flexibility depending on clientsí demands ñ saving businesses money on labour in times when production is unnecessary, and workers can also turn down hours that do not suit their commitments – such as other part-time jobs, family life or study.

Most people on these contracts work an average of 25 hours per week and only a third would like more hours, but for the third that do want greater security and more hours, the inability to plan ahead for the future is disconcerting.

Consequently, whether we like zero-hour contracts or not, the pressure on businesses to change their contracts and the bad reputation that they garner is encouraging more companies to drop zero-hour contracts, hopefully offering more stability for their workforces.


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December 2021
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