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Ian Brinkley
Economic Advisor
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Flexibility or insecurity? Exploring the rise in zero hours contracts

Whatever the hard numbers tell us, zero hours contracts (ZHCs) have come to symbolise a wider concern that the labour market is moving towards more contingent, less secure, and more exploitative forms of employment at a time when in many areas jobs are scarce and people have little choice over taking whatever work is available. 

The Work Foundation has been actively involved in the debate around zero hours contracts. Our report further develops some of the key statistics displayed in our infographic and some of the points raised from our recent event. The report takes data from both the Labour Force Survey, the Workplace Employment Relations Survey and the CIPD’s latest data – and covers:

  • the nature of zero hours contracts and some issues of employment law
  • health warnings about the use of official statistics
  • the wider labour market context, looking at levels of regulation, the role of labour market intermediaries, the growth of non-standard employment, and the extent and nature of flexible working
  • a cross-sectional analysis of some characteristics of zero hours contracts, using the latest available data and other evidence for 2012
  • how zero hours contracts have changed over time, comparing 1997 with 2012
  • recommendations for policy and organisational responses

 

Related Reports

Zero Hour Contracts: response to the BIS consultation
This submission sets out The Work Foundation’s response to the consultation exercise announced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in December 2013.

Ian Brinkley
14 March 2014

Flexibility or insecurity? Exploring the rise in zero hours contracts
Whatever the hard numbers tell us, zero hours contracts (ZHCs) have come to symbolise a wider concern that the labour market is moving towards more contingent, less secure, and more exploitative forms of employment at a time when in many areas jobs are scarce and people have little choice over taking whatever work is available.

Ian Brinkley
28 August 2013

Related Events

Flexibility or insecurity? Exploring the rise in zero hours contracts
Zero hours contracts – where the employee has no guarantee of work, but are expected to work when required – are an increasing part of the UK labour market. What’s the truth behind zero hours contracts? And what should the response from policymakers and employers be?

Thu, 04 July 2013
09:00 - 10:30

Related Blogs

What might restore Sports Direct's reputation
The troubled firm Sports Direct seems to be able to do nothing right. Held up as giving capitalism a bad name by, of all people, the Institute of Directors, and widely criticised for alleged poor employment practices the firm is now engaged in a public row with the House of Commons on giving evidence on how the firm treats its workers. Sales and share price have suffered as a result. This is a timely reminder that good employment practice is not a nice to have.

23 March 2016

The rise of zero hours contracts?
The new figures on zero hours contracts show yet another increase, up from just under 700,000 in 2014Q4 to just over 800,000 in 2015Q4 or from 2.3 per cent to 2.5 per cent of total employment. One of the big problems in interpreting the rise in zero hours contracts has been how much is due to increased awareness among people in work leading to higher reporting and how much is due to a genuine increase in the use of such contracts. Between 2000 and 2012 the number on zero hours showed no clear upward trend, varying between 0.4 and 0.8 per cent of total employment. But in 2013 the numbers more than doubled and have continued to rise ever since. As there was no obvious trigger and it is very unlikely organisations spontaneously switched to zero hours overnight on a big scale, it is more plausible to say that the estimates prior to 2013 seriously understated the level of zero hours working. Increased awareness must have played a big part in the rise in reported zero hours work from 2013

Senior Economic Advisor
10 March 2016

New Labour Market Statistics - February
These figure cover the last quarter of 2015, so will not reflect recent concerns over the state of the world economy and the financial sector. Wage increases remain modest, but with inflation still very low real wages will continue to recover for many. But it would not take much of an increase in prices for us to return to the days of zero or close to zero real wage increases.

17 February 2016

Zero hours – can’t get no satisfaction?
If there is one subject in the labour market bound to generate strong reactions, it is zero hours contracts. The most recent CIPD report1, which found that people on zero hours contracts were just as satisfied with their jobs as those on permanent contracts, has ben criticised by some, including the TUC. The CIPD has responded to this criticism by suggesting that this is shooting the messenger.

Senior Economic Advisor
09 December 2015

Zero Hours – The new figures and what they (might) mean
The new figures from the Labour Force Survey on zero hours contracts have once again provoked strong reactions in some quarters because they appear to show a huge leap in the number of such contracts.

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Zero hours contracts and the Labour Party - Part 2
The announcement last Wednesday by the Labour Party that it will restrict the use of zero hour contracts can be portrayed as an anti business attack on the UK’s flexible labour market and thereby endangering jobs or as an overdue intervention to protect those without bargaining power from exploitative employers that while help improve job security and productivity. As I suggested in my blog of April 2014 when the idea was first floated, the hype on both sides is overdone.

07 April 2015

Zero hours- where to now?
The Coalition is currently translating its commitment to ban 'exclusivity' on zero hours contracts into law. Employers who are not prepared to make a commitment to their employees on hours of work will no longer be able to insist they only work for that employer. This seems a sensible measure, though I would expect the number of cases to be small.

25 June 2014

Comment on the Queen's Speech
The Queen’s Speech announces a number of measures to be wrapped up in a “Small business, Enterprise and Employment” Bill. These are a restatement of general objectives that government policies were pursuing anyway such as improving access to finance and to public procurement contracts for SMEs and regularly reviewing “red tape” so that it can be cut or made effective.

04 June 2014

May Director's report
Geraint Johnes, director of The Work Foundation, analyses the emerging trends and challenges of the UK's labour market.

14 May 2014

Older women in the labour market
Ian Brinkley, chief economist at The Work Foundation, blogs on the topic of the employment rate of over-50s in the labour market and whether the Government's measures, particularly for the long-term unemployed are having the desired effect.

08 May 2014

What do the latest GDP figures tell us about growth?
Geraint Johnes analyses the latest GDP statistics which were released today.

29 April 2014

The Labour Party and zero hours contracts
Press reports say that the Labour Party is proposing to limit the use of zero hours contracts by giving zero hours workers the right to ask for a regular contract with fixed hours after six months with the same employer and an automatic offer of a zero hours contracts after 12 months. However, individuals can opt out of the automatic offer and continue to work zero hours if they wish to.

25 April 2014

Self-Employment – Entrepreneurial Dawn Or The End Of Secure Jobs?
Ian Brinkley, a chief economist at The Work Foundation, writes in response to reports highlighting the rise of self-employment and ahead of the latest labour market statistics due out tomorrow.

15 April 2014

Zero hours contracts - new figures and a new approach
Ian Brinkley, chief economist at The Work Foundation, blogs on the latest figures on zero hours contracts and on his submission to the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.

Ian Brinkley
14 March 2014

Capacity constraints are softer than some would have us believe
Geraint Johnes, director of The Work Foundation, blogs on latest ONS review which looks at the spare capacity in the economy.

Professor Geraint Johnes
05 March 2014

The Future of the Minimum Wage
Ian Brinkley, chief economist of The Work Foundation, writes about the future of the minimum wage against the context of the Low Pay Commission's recommendation of a 3% rise.

Ian Brinkley
28 February 2014

Zero hours contracts consultation - a missed opportunity
Just before Christmas, BIS launched the long awaited formal consultation on zero hours contracts. Progress is always welcome, but this is a minimalist response to calls for a more systematic and in depth inquiry advocated by The Work Foundation.

Ian Brinkley, chief economist, The Work Foundation
09 January 2014

Zero-hours contracts: myth and reality
Ian Brinkley responds to the CIPD's latest report, Zero-hours contracts: myth and reality.

Ian Brinkley
26 November 2013

Has the economy turned a corner?
Ian Brinkley comments on the latest labour market statistics released today which should be cause for optimism but against the context of falling real wages and the rise of zero hours contracts, the story is a little more nuanced.

Ian Brinkley
11 September 2013

The alternative to zero hours contracts is better demand forecasting
Professor Robert Fildes of Lancaster University Management School writes how the alternative to zero hours contracts is better demand forecasting.

Professor Robert Fildes, joint director of Centre for Forecasting
13 August 2013

How many on zero hours contracts? Nobody knows
We held a well-attended and lively event on zero hours contracts at The Work Foundation recently with an excellent panel spanning a wide range of views. Yet a remarkable consensus emerged that we badly needed to find out much more about the use of zero hours contracts in practice before policymakers and organisations could take an informed view of whether more regulation was required and what form it should take.

Ian Brinkley, director of The Work Foundation
09 July 2013

Zero hours contracts: What’s the alternative?
In order to understand the increasing use of zero hours contracts (albeit they still only account for 0.7% of all work contracts), we need to understand the economic context for this change.

Kevin Green, Chief Executive, Recruitment and Employers Confederation
08 July 2013

Where next for zero hours contracts?
Zero hours contracts have become something of a hot button issue of late. For many they embody the worst aspects of the UK labour market, granting employers complete flexibility and leaving workers facing insecurity, falling wages, and worsening conditions.

Nye Cominetti
03 July 2013

Zero hours contracts – nasty, brutish and unfair?
Zero hours contracts have become the most high profile example of what some see as ushering in a new era of even greater job insecurity for some. Though somewhat challenging, we think it is important to find out what is really going on around zero hours contracts and the reasons behind the trends

Ian Brinkley
13 June 2013

Labour Day 2013
A reflection on the current state of the labour market given it's Labour Day today (1 May)

Ian Brinkley
01 May 2013

Zero hours contracts and the flexible labour market
Recent media interest in zero hours contracts has shed some light into a largely forgotten corner of the UK’s flexible labour market. The zero hour contract, in effect, requires the individual to be available for work, but his or her employer are under no obligation to provide work. Some employers see zero hours contracts as a way of ensuring flexibility and remaining competitive in situations where work fluctuates unexpectedly from day to day or week to week. However, some of those on zero hours contracts see them as exploitative, where they bear all the risk and where the balance of interest lies almost entirely with the employer.

Ian Brinkley
17 August 2012

Related News

The Work Foundation featured in Institute of Leadership and Management on zero-hours contracts
Web article on zero-hours contracts and women in leadership.

Institute of Leadership and Management (Web)
21 August 2014

Chelmsford Weekly News features Ian Brinkley on low pay growth and rising employment figures
The Government said its economic plans were creating growth and jobs after new figures showed another big fall in unemployment and more people in work.

Chelmsford Weekly News (Web)
14 August 2014

Pay and Benefits quotes The Work Foundation on the zero-hour contract.
Artcicle discusses the steep rise in zero hour contracts and the implications.

Pay and Benefits
09 April 2014

Code of conduct rather than ban needed for zero hours contracts
Ian Brinkley, chief economist at The Work Foundation responds to the consultation on zero-hours contracts by calling for a 'code of conduct' rather than a ban.

Angelo Evangelou
14 March 2014

Increase in ‘zero hours contracts’ figures doesn’t necessarily represent increase in usage
Commenting on the latest ONS release of figures on zero hours contracts, Ian Brinkley, chief economist at The Work Foundation, said:

Angelo Evangelou
10 March 2014