One million British workers on zero-hours contracts – survey

A man climbs a stairway in a narrow alley in Temple Bar, the legal district of London, July 30, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

LONDON: Around one million Britons are in jobs offering no guaranteed minimum work or pay, far more than the 250,000 estimated by the country’s statistics agency, an industry survey showed on Monday.

Zero-hours contracts have come in for growing criticism from trade unions and the opposition Labour Party because people who sign up to them are offered very little security while often being expected to work at short notice.

Britain’s Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, the main professional body for human resources, said that based on a survey of more than 1,000 employers, it estimated that 3-4 percent of British workers were on zero-hours contracts, equivalent to roughly one million people.

Almost unheard of in the rest of Europe and the United States, the rapid growth of this type of work helps explain how Britain’s barely growing economy has been able to provide jobs for a record number of people.

Last week the Office for National Statistics revised up its estimate of the number of zero-hours workers to 250,000 from 200,000, but said there may be more as its surveys failed to ask many shift workers if they were employed on a zero-hours basis.

“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,” said Peter Cheese, the CIPD’s chief executive.

Based on a sample of 148 zero-hours workers in a forthcoming CIPD survey, the body said just over half reported that the jobs always provided sufficient work for a basic standard of living, while almost a third said this was not always the case.