But analysis by the Resolution Foundation think-tank suggests the tide is turning on the controversial contracts, with signs big employers in the UK are moving away from them after the negatve publicity over Sports Direct’s use of them. The sportswear retailer announced in September it was ditching zero-hours contracts, known as ZHCs, following a review of working practices.
The Resolution Foundation said other major employers such as Homebase, Wetherspoons and McDonalds will end use of the contracts or offer workers a chance to move to fixed-hours deals.
Trade unions have raised concerns about the exploitation of workers on ZHCs, who have no guaranteed minimum working hours, sick or holiday pay.
But some employers say the contracts suit many workers, who like the flexibility they offer and the opportunity to “top up” their income.
Resolution Foundation data showed the number of people on ZHCs grew by more than 100,000 between the first and last quarters of 2016. The increase in the second half of the year was just 7000 – or 0.8 per cent – compared with the 7.7 per cent growth in the second half of 2015. It was the first time ZHCs have not increased significantly faster than overall employment since 2013.
The think-tank’s policy analyst, Conor D’Arcy, said the slowdown could indicate employers are finding it harder to fill jobs at a time of record high employment, the prospect of the supply of EU labour being limited after Brexit and a fear of reputational damage – as “no employer wants to be the next Sports Direct”.
Mr D’Arcy said: “While the growth in these contracts has continued, beneath the surface there are signs of change, with a marked slowing of their uptake.“This is about more than just the general slowdown in employment growth, with a bigger drop visible in the growth of zero-hours contracts.
“Not providing guaranteed hours of work for those who want it, especially those in low-paying roles, can have a huge negative impact on the living standards of workers and their families.
“The challenge now is to ensure that these still-popular contracts are reserved for cases of genuine desired flexibility for worker and employer.”
Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said: “This analysis showing nearly one million UK workers on zero-hours contracts confirms unprecedented levels of insecurity among working people.”