10 March 2016

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of workers who say they are on a zero-hours contract has increased by 104,000 to 801,000 and its report has brought sharply contrasting responses.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) argues that the figures suggest that zero-hour contracts are now a permanent feature of the UK jobs market, while noting that it still enjoys a higher share of permanent contracts than many of its OECD competitors.

Labour Market Adviser Gerwyn Davies said: "It’s important that the debate on zero-hours contracts is a balanced one, recognising that when managed well, these contracts can benefit both employers and workers."

However, he went on, it is important to acknowledge that there is room for improvement in the employer operation of these contracts, particularly in terms of career progression and inclusion.

Against this partly positive view of the use of zero-hours contracts, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady takes a wholly negative approach, arguing that they "may be a dream for cost-cutting employers, but they can be a nightmare for workers".

She highlighted research published by the TUC which sets the average weekly earnings for zero-hours workers at just £188, compared to £479 for permanent workers.

Furthermore, 39% of zero-hours workers earn less than £111 a week — the qualifying threshold for statutory sick pay — compared to just 8% of permanent employees.

"Many people on zero-hours contracts are unable to plan for their future and regularly struggle with paying bills and having a decent family life," Ms O'Grady said.