The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported last week on the number of zero-hours contracts from two surveys – the Labour Force Survey (LFS) (based on the number of people who report that they are on zero-hours contracts), and a survey of business (which is based on the number of contracts which do not guarantee a minimum number of hours).

The LFS shows that the number of people estimated to be on zero-hours contracts has risen to almost 700,000 for October to December 2014. An increase of more than almost 20% when compared with the same period last year. This represents 2.3 per cent of people in employment.

Because the LFS is based on the number of people who report they are on zero-hours contracts the ONS suggests that the reason for the increase is due to greater awareness of “zero-hours contracts” rather than new contracts.

These figures compare with the Business Survey which covers a sample of some 5,000 business in the fortnight beginning on 11 August 2014. This showed that there are 1.8 million contracts which do not guarantee the number of hours (NGHC’s). Although these figures cannot be accurately compared with the previous business survey as they were based on a different period, it does show that, as with the LFS, the number of zero-hours contracts are growing.

Who works on these contracts?

The ONS also found that that there are differences in the types of people on zero-hours contracts and the industries which make the most use of them.

The LFS showed that in the period October to December 2014:

  • 55% of women report working on zero-hours contracts
  • 34% of young people aged 16 to 24 report being on a zero-hours contract
  • 6% are aged 65 and over
  • 17 % of people on zero-hours contracts are in full-time education compared with 2 per cent of other people in employment.

Around a third (34 per cent) of people on zero-hours contracts want more hours compared with 13 per cent of other people. The ONS suggest that this could be due to a higher proportion of zero-hours contract jobs being part-time.

The Business Survey showed that the proportion of businesses using this type of contract varies considerably. Half of those business which employ 250 people or more use NGHC’s. By far the largest sector is accommodation and food services, where 53 per cent of companies make some use of them. The survey also reveals that one in four businesses in the education sector use them. None of the businesses contacted in the follow up work after the January 2014 survey used exclusivity clauses.

Jo Seery of Thompsons Solicitors commented: “What is clear from the ONS report is that the growing number of zero-hours workers need proper employment rights, such as a right to regular work - not just a ban on exclusivity clauses as proposed by this government”

To read the report in more detail, go to: