The Work Foundation has published a report which says the reality of zero hours contracts is more nuanced than is generally understood. It has called for a systematic investigation to identify their full extent and the reasons they are used.
The report said zero hours contracts may be an important part of the flexible working matrix. “A common assumption is that labour markets in many economies, including the UK, are moving towards more flexible or more insecure forms of employment. Zero hours contracts are seen as part of this shift and therefore seen as a potentially important contributor to preserving and enhancing the overall flexibility of the UK labour market.”
Companies using zero hours contracts have been criticised in recent weeks, with some workers subject to the agreements claiming they are unfair. Under zero hours contracts the worker has no right to a minimum number of hours and critics argue they face financial uncertainty and hardship.
Ian Brinkley, director of the Work Foundation and author of the report, said the analysis shows that those on zero hours contracts are more likely to be part of the permanent workforce than temporary employees. Contrary to popular assumption, 43% of those affected are in the top three occupational groups of manager, professional or associate/technical staff. Just under a fifth (17%) were in manual or semi-skilled jobs, and another 17% in care, leisure or sales jobs.
Brinkley advocates legislation and good practice rather than banning the contracts.
He said: In spite of the ONS figure increasing to 250,000 following their adjustment and the CIPD survey estimating around a million people are on such contracts, much confusion still remains. There are vast numbers of workers who are unaware they are on zero hours contracts. We still don’t know how many have taken them by choice and how many out of necessity. Nor do we yet understand the true reasons why employers are making more use of them.”
The report said just under 18% of those on zero hours contracts were looking for alternative employment (the figure for all employees is 7%). The number of care workers on the contracts has risen to 60% in 2011-12, from 50% in 2008-09.
It added that 86% of respondents in nurse banks are satisfied with their working patterns. Of those on zero hours contracts, 44% had been with their employer for two years or more and 25% for five years or more. Three quarters of respondents said they did not want more hours than they have been given.
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