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Almost 1 million UK workers are now on zero-hour contracts

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
The number of zero-hour contracts in Britain is on the rise. Photo: PA

New figures reveal almost 1 million workers are on zero-hour contracts in the UK, amid growing concern about the rise of insecure jobs among the youngest and oldest workers.

Trade unions claimed the government had “failed to crack down on unfair employment practices” as official figures showed a 15% spike in workers on zero-hour contracts in the past year to near record highs.

Some 896,000 people, or just over 1 in 40 people in employment, are on the contracts where workers are on call but not guaranteed any work, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released on Tuesday.

The number of zero-hour workers aged 65 or over has also soared by 30% in the past year, while the proportion of 16-24-year-old workers on zero-hours now stands at 8.8%.

READ MORE: UK wages rising at fastest rate since the credit crunch

The government welcomed figures showing record high employment and wage growth at an 11-year high, but experts point out insecure, zero-hours or freelance work has helped drive part of recent employment growth in Britain.

James Smith, an economist at ING Economics, tweeted: “Some interesting stuff going on in the UK self-employed numbers of late. Large chunk of recent gains in total employment are down to the self-employed, although less so in the latest data. Also unusually large increases in part-time self-employed recently.”

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC which represents trade unions, said: “It’s no surprise zero-hours contracts are rising when ministers have failed to crack down on unfair employment practices.

“The government must ban zero-hours contracts so that all workers can have solid jobs with full workers’ rights.”

Laura Gardiner, research director at the Resolution Foundation, said: “While the labour market overall is in rude health, the significant rise in zero-hours contracts shows that job quality remains a concern, particularly for young people.”

But a spokeswoman for the department for business, energy and industrial strategy said: "The Taylor Review found banning zero-hour contracts would hurt more people than it would help. They provide valued flexibility for both employers and individuals, such as carers, students, or working parents.

"The UK's has record employment rates and through the government's Good Work Plan, we are delivering the biggest upgrade to workers' rights in a generation - ensuring workers have access to the rights and protections they deserve from day one."

READ MORE: Unemployment creeps up in Britain amid fears ‘glory years over’