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Number of zero-hours contracts up 75% since ‘review’ promised a decade ago

Exclusive: Huge increase revealed as government accused of ‘opening the door to yet more insecure work‘ with roll-back of rights

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 20 October 2022 00:11 BST
Keir Starmer says Tory government's economic plan is 'immoral'

The use of zero-hours contracts has soared by 75 per cent since the government pledged to review the controversial practice nearly a decade ago, a new analysis shows.

And there has been an 86 per cent leap in the number of workers aged 35-49 placed on the arrangements – forcing more families to “rely on insecure work”, Labour is protesting.

Its study of official figures is revealed as Labour vows to ban zero-hours contracts – which put staff on standby, with no guarantee of any minimum work hours – as part of a New Deal for Working People.

“Tory ministers have failed for a decade to stamp out unfair working practices time and again. They’ve lost all credibility,” said Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader.

“The next Labour government will ban zero-hour contracts, protect rights at work and raise standards for all.”

At the Trades Union Conference in Brighton, Keir Starmer will also argue Labour is now “the party of sound finance”, following the meltdown of Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-Budget.

“They can dance around and U-turn. They can sack this chancellor or that prime minister, but the damage is done and they did it,” the Labour leader will say.

“They crashed the British economy – and for what? To show they were on the side of the richest 1 per cent. A crisis made in Downing Street, without a mandate, paid for by working people in higher bills, higher rents and higher mortgages.”

In 2013, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government launched a review of zero-hours contracts because of “a steady rise” even nine years ago.

Vince Cable, the Lib Dem business secretary, noted “anecdotal evidence of abuse by certain employers – including in the public sector – of some vulnerable workers at the margins of the labour market”.

At the time, there were 585,000 workers with zero-hours contracts, but this total had mushroomed to over 1 million by 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The number held by workers aged 35 to 49 has grown even faster – from 103,000 to 222,500, Labour pointed out.

Ms Rayner added: “The Tories have ushered in a race to the bottom, leaving millions with insecure hours and no assurances over when their next paycheck will arrive.

“And now they’re adding insult to injury by renewing their efforts on taking rights away and opening the door to yet more insecure work.”

The last comment is a reference to efforts, by the business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, to water down workers’ rights from EU membership – including in smaller firms.

Meanwhile, a long-promised Employment Bill – designed to boost protections for workers – was shelved again earlier this year.

As long ago as 2019, a review into the flouting of rules in low-paid sectors warned of a growing risk of exploitation amid changes to the immigration system after Brexit.

Labour’s New Deal would also give all workers equal rights to sick pay, holiday pay, parental leave and protection against unfair dismissal – as well as reasonable notice of changes in shifts or working time.

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