Zero hours contracts more widespread than thought

August 05, 2013, 1:58 PM GMT+0

New YouGov research commissioned by CIPD finds that there could be about one million zero hours workers in the UK, suggesting that official figures may be an underestimate.

According to the survey, almost a fifth (19%) of employers say they employ at least one person on a zero hours contract. Employers in the voluntary sector (34%) and the public sector (24%) are more likely to use zero hours contracts than those in the private sector employers (17%). In particular, employers in the hotels, catering and leisure (48%), education (35%) and healthcare (27%) industries are most likely to say they employ at least one person on this type of contract.

Among the fifth of employers who use zero hours contracts, the majority (54%) employed less than 10% of their workforce on these terms. The mean proportion of workers on zero hours contracts in these organisations was 16%.

Challenge to official figures

Based on YouGov data, the CIPD estimates that 3-4% of all the workers covered in this survey are on zero hours contracts, which would equate to about one million workers across the UK labour force. This contrasts with the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics which suggest that approximately 250,000 people – less than 1% of those in employment - consider themselves to be on a zero hour contract.

Differences in working hours

Another YouGov survey for CIPD finds that nearly one in four (38%) zero hours contract workers describe themselves as being employed full-time, typically working 30 hours or more a week. This compares to over three-fifths (62%) who say they work part-time.

Those with a zero hours contract work for 19.5 hours a week on average, yet only 14% think that their employer frequently fails to provide them with sufficient hours to have a basic standard of living. In contrast, three-quarters (75%) say that their employers do not often fail to give them enough working hours.

The poll also reveals that those employed on zero hour contracts are twice as likely to be young (18 to 24) or old (55+) than other age groups.

Commenting on these findings, CIPD CEO Peter Cheese said: “Zero hours contracts are a hot topic and our research suggests they are being used more commonly than the ONS figures would imply. However, the assumption that all zero hours contracts are “bad” and the suggestion from some quarters that they should be banned should be questioned…. Zero hours contracts, used appropriately, can provide flexibility for employers and employees and can play a positive role in creating more flexible working opportunities. This can for example allow parents of young children, carers, students and others to fit work around their home lives. However, for some this may be a significant disadvantage where they need more certainty in their working hours and earnings, and we need to ensure that proper support for employees and their rights are not being compromised through such arrangements. Zero hours contracts cannot be used simply to avoid an employer’s responsibilities to its employees.”

CIPD is the world's largest Chartered HR and development professional body which works to support and develop those responsible for the management and development of people within organisations.

See the full results for the YouGov/CIPD survey of employers

See the full results for the YouGov/CIPD survey of employees

Image courtesy of Getty images