Are Zero Contracts Fast Becoming the Norm?

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The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has shown that the government estimate of those working zero hours contracts has doubled since the original figure of 250,000. Around 583,000 people are now tied into these contracts, perpetuating job insecurity and poor working conditions.

A chart to show the rise in zero hour contracts from 2012-2013

Zero Hours Contracts Spreading Across the Market

Zero hours contracts allow an employer to hire an individual without owing them any minimum working hours. Once used by the minority, these contracts are now spreading across the labour market and being used by not only restaurant chains and leisure centres, but also retail stores and social care.

In 2013, Norman Lamb, the social care minister, said there were 370,000 zero hours contracts in the care sector alone.

The increase in the number of people under zero hours contracts is somewhat down to how the ONS assess a zero hours contract. The figure is 3 times higher than when the coalition came to power in 2010.

Problems with Zero Hours Contracts

Chuka Ummuna, the shadow business secretary said that at a time where "families are facing a cost- of-living crisis" the government are destabilising jobs and making employment unsecure. Although zero hours contracts have a place in the employment market as a potential niche for those who they are suitable, they are fast becoming "the norm" in some sectors of employment. Some of the most damaging problems with zero hours contracts are:
  • Workplace insecurity – there is no obligation for your employer to provide any work
  • Exclusivity clauses – coupled with the fact there is no obligaton for work, this could leave you unable to earn any income at all
  • Reduced employment rights
  • Increased financial pressure – You could yo-yo in and out of debt as your hours change
  • Prevention from supplementing your income by working for another employer

Cable Consultation Closing Soon

Business Secretary, Vince Cable, admits that there is "some abuse" of these types of contracts. He has urged unions, employers and employees to respond to a consultation that he launched at the end of last year to "sort this problem out".

It would seem that although Mr Cable is encouraging unions to take part in his consultation, he is eroding the rights that unions have championed for their members over the past 50 years.

Although he has said he will crack down on "exclusivity clauses" that prevent working for other employers, we are yet to see any action.

Some people cannot afford to live their lives by zero hours contracts and this is something that should be recognised by the government.

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