The number of people on zero hours contracts recorded by official statistics has sharply increased in the last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.
There were 744,000 people working in contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours between April to June 2015, the ONS said.
This amounts to 2.4 per cent of people in employment, or approximately one-in-forty people with a job.
The figures posted a substantial rise from the same period last year when 624,000 or 2.0 per cent of people in employment were recorded as being on a zero-hours contract.
The year-on-year increase is roughly 19.2 per cent.
The ONS however warned that part of the rise could be due to increased recognition of the term “zero hours contract”.
“It is not possible to say how much of this increase is due to greater recognition of the term ‘zero hours contracts’ rather than new contracts,” the organisation explained in the summary to its statistical release.
The Government has defended zero hours contracts, with welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith arguing in their favour.
“Zero hour contracts are badly named – I don’t know whoever came up with that idea, they should be named the flexible hours contracts,” he told Sky News in April.
He added that the contracts help people strike a good “work-life balance”.
Critics say the contracts allow employers to exploit workers and mean that people cannot rely on receiving enough wages to pay the bills despite needing to be constantly available for work.
At the last election Labour said it would give zero-hours employees the power to ask for a full contract if they worked regular hours for three months.
The Green Party says it wants to emulate the German contract system where a quarter of the hours in a contract can be flexible but that employers have to give workers a base number of hours.
The Coalition government removed employers’ ability to include “exclusivity clauses” in zero hours contract, though in practice anyone on a contract can still be refused work for any reason.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
The Trades Union Congress estimates that average weekly earnings for zero-hours workers are just £188, compared to £479 for permanent workers.
39 per cent of zero-hours workers earn less than £111 a week – the qualifying threshold for statutory sick pay – compared to just 8 per cent of permanent employees.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said zero-hours contracts are "a stark reminder of Britain’s two-tier workforce".
“People employed on these contracts earn £300 a week less, on average, than workers in secure jobs," she said.
“I challenge any minister or business leader to survive on a low-paid zero-hours contract job, not knowing from one day to the next how much work they will have.
“Try telling zero-hours workers who have been turned down by mortgage lenders and landlords that they are getting a good deal. We need a stronger and fairer recovery that works for everyone, not one that forces people to survive off scraps of work.”