8 December 2015

A few months ago the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the TUC were at odds over zero-hours contracts with the former calling them a useful part of a flexible labour market while, to the unions, they were a stark reminder of Britain’s two-tier workforce.

Now the TUC has re-entered the fray, this time in opposition to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, following the CIPD's claim that employees on zero-hours contracts are as happy as permanent, full-time staff.

The research, which also updates the CIPD estimate of the number of employees on zero-hours contracts (up from 1 million in 2013 to 1.3 million in 2015), suggests that less pressure and better work–life balance supports personal well-being among these employees.

However, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has criticised the size of the CIPD sample, arguing that it is hard to draw conclusions about the experiences of all zero-hours workers after questioning just 368 people.

"Zero-hours contracts do work for some people," she conceded. "But let’s not forget that they have been used as a way of keeping down wages and employing staff on worse terms and conditions. This is especially the case in sectors like adult social care and for younger workers."

Ms O’Grady also pointed out that TUC research shows that average weekly earnings for zero-hours workers are just £188, compared to £479 for permanent workers.

CIPD Chief Executive Peter Cheese said: "We all want to see better working lives for everybody but if we simply focus on zero-hours contracts as the source of poor-quality working lives, we risk ignoring the bigger systemic issues which create low-skilled and low-quality work."