It has been revealed that the number of zero-hours contracts being used by UK firms rose from 1.4 million in January last year to 1.8 million in the height of summer, BBC News reports.
Official figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that zero-hours contracts increased considerably between the start of 2014 and the first two weeks of August. While experts say that this is likely due to an increase in seasonal summer positions becoming available, it has caused concern for critics of the scheme.
Since the recession, zero-hours contracts have become increasingly popular with some firms looking to reduce their staffing costs; these contracts have been controversial, however, as they do not offer workers a minimum number of hours, and staff can be sent home at anytime – unpaid – if they are not needed.
One of the biggest criticisms is that some workers are not even aware that they are signed up to a zero-hours system. But thanks to publicity surrounding the issue, awareness does now seem to be increasing; the number of workers who said that they were on a zero-hours contract rose from 586,000 between October to December 2013, to 697,000 for the same period last year – some 2.3% of everyone employed in the UK.
According to David Freeman from the ONS, people who had been on these contracts for more than 12 months showed more signs of awareness.
The report shows that the majority of people employed under zero-hours contracts are women and students, aged either under 25 or over 65. They typically work 25 hours a week, but around a third of respondents wanted more hours in their current job, compared to just 10% of other employed people. Employers are under no obligation to give them work, and prohibit them from accepting employment elsewhere in the meantime.
While some praise the flexibility that zero-hours contracts can provide – for both staff and employer – critics such as Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, have stated that they “shift almost all power from the worker and give it to their boss.”
Others, such as Labour shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, feel that these contracts have gone from “being a niche concept to becoming the norm in parts of our economy.”