Zero-hours contracts: One million British workers could be affected

Unions call for reform as Business Secretary orders review into practice

Deputy Political Editor

One million workers could be employed on controversial zero-hours contracts, four times more than the number estimated by official Whitehall statisticians, according to a survey of businesses.

The scale of the practice, whereby employees have to be available for work but are not guaranteed any set number of hours, prompted fresh calls last night for a ban on people being hired without the promise of a guaranteed minimum number of hours.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) calculated that up to four per cent of workers could have been forced to accept such contracts.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week revised its estimate for the number of people employed on a stand-by basis from 200,000 to 250,000. But critics had warned the true figure could be much higher and The Independent revealed last month that 300,000 people in the social care sector alone have been required to accept zero-hours terms.

The CIPD’s survey of more than 1,000 businesses found one-fifth (19 per cent) of employers had recruited staff on zero-hours contracts, with the practice more common in the voluntary and public sectors than in private industry. Nearly half (48 per cent) of employers in the hotel, catering and leisure sector had used zero-hours contracts, compared with 35 per cent in education and 27 per cent in health care. Large organisations were more likely than small businesses to offer the contracts. The CIPD found young adults (aged 18 to 24) and older workers (over 55) were most likely not to be offered the contracts.

Fourteen per cent of staff employed on these conditions told the CIPD they did not receive enough work to ensure a decent basic standard of living.

Zero-hours contracts were initially introduced in hotels, restaurants and shops, but their use has spread to the public sector because of spending cuts. The number has reached almost 100,000 in the National Health Service, while new figures show more than 270 government staff are on such contracts. Unison, Britain’s second biggest union, called for them to be outlawed. Its general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “The vast majority of workers are only on these contracts because they have no choice. They may give flexibility to a few, but the balance of power favours the employers and makes it hard for workers to complain. Not knowing from week to week what money you have coming in to buy food and pay your bills is extremely nerve-wracking.”

Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said: “The fact that zero-hours contracts have increased across the economy is further evidence of how tough it can be for people at work under this Government. People are being made to feel grateful for any kind of employment regardless of the pay, terms and conditions.”

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has ordered a review of the contracts. He said: “While it’s important our workforce remains flexible, it is equally important that it is treated fairly.”

The CIPD’s chief executive officer, Peter Cheese, said: “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... should be questioned.”

In numbers

250,000 The ONS increased its estimate of zero-hours workers last year

300,000 The number of zero hours contracts in the social care sector, according Skills for Care

1m The latest figure of one million from the CIPD is a new high

Video: Vince Cable wants 'full picture' on zero-hours contracts

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project