Zero-hours contracts make up one in four offers to jobless

Almost half of job-seekers reject controversial insecure work, survey finds

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The Independent Online

Nearly one in four jobs being offered to the unemployed are on zero-hours contracts which give no guarantee of work, according to a leading recruitment website.

Researchers also found that nearly half of those looking for work had rejected such offers despite fears among some claimants that job centres could wrongfully withdraw benefits if employment opportunities are turned down.

The revelation led to unions calling again for an end to the exploitative use of such contracts and comes as the issue appears to have been quietly dropped from the agenda by the new Government, after changes were pushed through by the Liberal Democrats during the Coalition.

The Labour MP Alison McGovern, who has campaigned extensively against zero-hours contracts, agreed that the Government needed to re-examine the issue. She said: “It just shows this is still an issue, despite the Government claiming all is well in the labour market. People want security when they go to work and to know how much they will be earning at the end of each month, rather than being left in limbo week in, week out.”

Glassdoor, which allows employees to post anonymous reviews of their company’s working conditions and which conducted the research, suggested that nearly half of jobseekers were turning down zero-hours contracts because they did not trust the employers offering them.

Jon Ingham, a careers and workplace expert at Glassdoor, explained: “People taking zero-hours contracts generally do so because they feel they have to rather than they want to.

“This could be interpreted as employers exploiting the most vulnerable, namely people who really need the money. However, for others it is a useful stop-gap. It can provide valuable work experience and the flexibility can be a positive, depending on your life stage.”

The company found that 23 per cent of unemployed adults were offered a zero-hours contract, with 47 per cent turning them down. About 30 per cent of jobseekers were unhappy with the irregular hours, 54 per cent said they needed to be assured of a guaranteed level of income, and 13 per cent said they were put off by negative press coverage.

Unions have long argued for the contracts to be banned, after it was revealed that several major companies were using them for the majority of their staff base. Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “Exploitative zero-hours contracts have become the employment model of choice for bosses such as Sports Direct, which has 75 per cent of its workforce on these contracts.

“These wretched contracts are heavily weighted in favour of the bosses – no one can plan for the future when they don’t know when, and for how long, they might be working from one week to the next. They are grinding down people into economic servitude.

He added: “People are being forced to take jobs that don’t offer permanent employment as they fear they will be stripped of their benefits if they don’t accept these miserable contracts.”

Job Centres must not take away benefits from jobseekers if they turn down work offered with no guaranteed hours, but there have been dozens of reports of officials withholding much-needed cash in error.

Last year the Government was forced to issue guidance to all Job Centres to remind them of their responsibilities. Ministers also passed rules banning the use of zero-hours contracts that ban workers from taking work elsewhere, while Prime Minister David Cameron admitted during the general election campaign he would not be able to survive under such conditions.

The revelations come as the Office for National Statistics postponed the publication of new figures on zero-hours employment. The most recent published data, from October to December last year, showed that 700,000 people in the UK were on the contracts.