Zero-hours contract 'epidemic' will take 40 years to resolve

It will take over 40 years to end the "epidemic" of zero hours contracts if the current trend continues, says the GMB. Pic: PA.
It will take over 40 years to end the "epidemic" of zero hours contracts if the current trend continues, says the GMB. Pic: PA.

It will take over 40 years to end the "epidemic" of zero-hours contracts if the current trend continues, according to a new study.

At the present rate of change, the number of people on the controversial contracts will not stop until 2061, said the GMB union.

The latest Office for National Statistics figures show a fall in the number of workers on zero-hours contracts of 20,000 compared to last year - from 903,000 workers to 883,000.

The GMB has launched a report at the Labour party conference in Brighton calling on the Government to take action to stamp out the proliferation of "precarious" work and to learn lessons from other countries that are taking action.

GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: "People employed through agencies, on zero hours or who are falsely self-employed could have the tap turned off on their hours with no notice and with no compensation.

"We already hear stories of workers who get on the bus to work only to get a text saying they aren't needed that day.

"How can you plan for childcare, let alone your future, when you've no idea what your wage packet will be from one week to the next? It's no way to live and it has to stop.

"GMB's report shows that when there is political will to take action, governments can make a difference to millions of working people.

"The UK government could act, but is choosing not to, and as a result is being left behind by so many other countries and advanced economies who are tackling insecure work."

Research for the GMB by the University of Sheffield's Political Economy Research Institute showed that zero-hours contracts have been banned in New Zealand while guaranteed hours per week are given in short-hours contracts in Germany, France and Italy.

There is a limit on the number of a temporary and agency workers a company can employ in Norway and Italy, and temporary workers have the same access to training as permanent workers in Denmark, said the report.

A Business Department spokesman said: "The continued strength of our economy is built on the flexibility of our labour market, but we do recognise concerns it is not working fairly for everyone.

"Since May last year, the use of exclusivity clauses in zero-hour contracts has been unlawful, meaning individuals have more control over their lives and can work more hours with another employer if they wish.

"Fewer than 3% of the UK workforce classes itself as being on a zero-hour contract in their main job, with the majority happy with the number of hours they work."