A new TUC poll has found that the reason that so many workers remain on zero-hours contracts is because it is the only type of work available to them.

This was the reason given by 43 per cent of respondents and was also the reason most commonly given. As a result, workers feel compelled to work whenever asked. If they turn work down, there is an implicit threat that they could lose out on future work.

Although bosses continue to claim that zero-hours workers enjoy the “choice and flexibility” that the contracts give them, the TUC found that this only applies to 25 per cent. The other two thirds, who are often struggling to make ends meet, want to be guaranteed a certain number of hours’ work per week.

More than half (59 per cent) said they wanted more hours than they usually got, with 54 per cent saying that they struggle to pay the bills because they can’t get enough work. However, although 45 per cent said they had asked for more hours in the past year, only 24 per cent got them.

So although flexibility exists for the employer, workers are left to struggle with uncertain hours, irregular income, a lack of basic rights and a general sense of insecurity at work. For instance, more than half of the workers polled had had shifts cancelled at less than 24-hours’ notice.

In terms of employment rights, most zero-hours workers are unlikely to enjoy them. For instance, 82 per cent said that they don’t receive sick pay; 63 per cent don’t receive maternity or paternity pay; seven in ten won’t receive redundancy pay if made redundant. Just under half (46 per cent) said they don’t get holiday pay; while just over half (54 per cent) said they have not been given a written statement of terms and conditions.

Given the lack of security and choice, it is hardly surprising that individuals on zero-hours contracts are more likely than other workers to be looking for a new job. Three in ten zero-hours contract workers said that they’re "very likely" to start the hunt for a new job in the coming year. A further 25 per cent are "likely" to start looking. The main reason was to find a better paid job but also one that was more fulfilling.

Iain Birrell, of Thompsons Solicitors, commented: “The fact that so many respondents to this representative poll reported that zero hours contracts didn’t work for them chimes with wider research. They report that the flexibility is generally one-sided and that their job insecurity continues to subsidise industry profits. Looking around the country at the moment, there are legions of practices where Britons can say ‘surely we can be better than that’ and zero hours contracts are certainly one.

However, a solution will not emanate from either the Conservatives or the EU, and this inequity will therefore continue until at least a new government is formed. In the meantime research such as this from the TUC have value in countering the pernicious neo-lib narrative that zero hours contracts are a utopian win-win arrangement.”

Click here to read the TUC report in more detail.