There have been a rash of data releases by various Government departments over the last week. I’ve put up blog posts already this week on housing benefit and universal credit stats, and here is another one, this time on zero-hours contracts (ZHCs).
Before I start, I should say that I have had a job where I was on a ZHC, and it worked very well for me. Whilst at university, I worked in a bar. I was required to commit to three shifts a week, including one at the weekend, but was not guaranteed to get any work. For me this was great because I was reasonably well liked by the management so was always offered plenty of hours, while at the same time being able to pick and choose when I worked. Others were not so lucky, and were given few hours at quiet times. As the job was just to top up my student loan, if I didn’t get any hours one week, it was not the end of the world. So I am not wholly against ZHCs and think there may some limited cases where they have a place.
Now to the latest data release. This comes from the ONS. After the uproar over ZHCs of the last couple of years, the ONS have tried to get a grasp of exactly how many people are on these types on contracts. They are still not quite there, but are now asking the question as part of the quarterly Labour Force Survey. For April-June 2014, they say there are 622,000 people on zero-hour contracts. Similar surveys asking businesses how many zero-hours staff they have suggests the figure could be as high as 1.4 million though.
It is good that the ONS are starting to publish these statistics, which over time will mean it will be possible to get a feel for the trend, i.e. whether ZHCs are becoming more or less common. 622,000 sounds like a lot of people to be working for no guaranteed hours. 1.4 million even more so. The real issue is around choice. If the people working ZHCs are like I was at university, then ZHCs may be appropriate. If not though and people are being forced into them because no other work is available, it is very worrying, and it seems unlikely that all those (or even most of those) on ZHCs are happy with the arrangement. This new data and future updates will help us understand what we’re dealing with.