Unbalanced Britain: Nearly 700,000 on Zero-Hours Contracts

The GMB has pointed out that nearly 700,000 workers are on zero-hours contracts despite working on average 25 hours per week. Commenting on the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics released last month, the union called on the Labour Party “to deal with exploitation and harassment of workers which it has ignored for too long”.

The ONS figures which came out at the end of February show that:

  • the number of people employed on a zero-hours contract in their main job was 697,000 for October to December 2014, representing 2.3% of all people in employment, a rise from 1.9% (586,000) in 2013
  • the number of contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours was 1.8 million for the fortnight beginning 11 August 2014, up from 1.4 million for the fortnight beginning 20 January 2014 (although the two estimates cover different times of year and cannot be directly compared)
  • on average, someone on a zero-hours contract usually works 25 hours a week
  • around a third of people on zero-hours contracts want more hours, with most wanting them in their current job, compared with 10% of other people in employment
  • people on zero-hours contracts are more likely to be women, in full-time education or working part-time, and to be aged under 25 or 65 and over
  • over half of accommodation and food services businesses and a quarter of education businesses made some use of no guaranteed hours contracts.

Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, said: “What employers are offering workers has seriously decreased while workers often have little alternative but to accept what is on offer. Even skilled workers in the UK face being undercut while wages are stagnant or falling in real terms.

Zero-hours contracts placard“There are fundamental problems about Europe that we have to face up to. Whatever the European vision was on integration, harmony, economic advancement and political stability, what we currently have isn’t it.

“The free movement of labour and the single market were to be balanced by the social charter where all the people of Europe would live in freedom and with those in the poorer economies, benefitting from the harmonisation of standards across all member states. There were to be standards on workers protection, TUPE, excessive hours, health and safety, information and consultation and so many others were meant to keep labour exploitation in check.

“That dream has been chipped away at for years. Right wing governments and employers have engineered massive changes in the direction of the EU vision. Judgements in the European Courts were the green light to massive assaults on organised labour across Europe, but especially in the UK.

“From Lindsey Oil refinery to food production we have seen workers recruited in certain member states by agencies and exploited. They were shipped in to undermine the terms and conditions of existing workers on those contracts. Both sets of workers have been let down by UK government, the EU Commission and the European Court.

“On exploitation – don’t blame the exploited; damn those who exploit. This has been repeated up and down the country over recent years. And that is part of the discontent that UKIP turn into xenophobic rhetoric to win votes.

“Look past the simplistic tag and face the challenge of exploitation. Let’s reach out to those migrant workers not attack them, but organise and protect them.

“Too many workers go to work fearful about exercising their basic rights. A new Labour government working with the EU has to create a workplace without fear and equip the trade unions to enforce it.

“The challenge for Labour in government is to deal with exploitation and harassment of workers which it has ignored for too long. Collective rights are the key to unlock that challenge. Take away the shackles that enable trade union organisation and we will show what enforcement is all about.”


For more information, visit www.gmb.org.uk.

See also: ‘Unbalanced Britain: Work, Wages and Labour’

and: ‘Labour Should Outlaw Zero-Hours Contracts’