15:16, October 03 40 0 theguardian.com

2018-10-03 15:16:05
More regular work wanted by almost half those on zero-hours

Almost half of people on zero-hours contracts want more regular work and greater levels of job security, according to a study that challenges the idea that workers want such terms for the flexibility they offer.

According to the report from three labour market economists, to be presented at an international conference in Austria this week, 44% of workers in a survey of 20,000 people on zero-hours contracts said they would like more working hours.

It also found that as few as 28% of people on zero-hours contracts worked on that basis to take advantage of the flexibility offered, effectively undermining one of the key arguments against banning the contracts.

The report comes after more than 20 years of rapid growth in the use of zero-hours contracts, and amid calls by Labour and the unions to make them illegal to prevent exploitation of workers.

Ministers agreed this year to give workers the right to request a fixed-hours contract following the Taylor review of the gig economy, although opponents argue that the government should have gone further.

The Institute for Public Policy Research’s commission on economic justice, backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called last month for workers on zero-hours contracts to be paid 20% above the living wage.

Almost a million people in the UK are not guaranteed any hours by their employer, compared with only 200,000 at the turn of the millennium, suggesting that work in Britain has become increasingly precarious.

The taint of scandal for companies that use zero-hours contracts and rising levels of full-time employment has led to a reduction in their usage in recent months, but there are still as many as 780,000 people working without the guarantee of fixed hours, a situation that makes it hard to manage household finances.

The research from the economists Nikhil Datta, Giulia Giupponi and Stephen Machin, found that almost 30% of workers had no other option but to accept working on a zero-hours contract because of a lack of job opportunities.

The study also uncovered a potential link between companies’ use of zero-hours contracts and the rising national minimum wage – particularly in low-paying sectors of the economy such as home care, hospitality, cleaning and maintenance.

The economists said it found “firms exploit the flexibility of zero-hours contracts in order to buffer the wage cost shock induced by the minimum wage increase”, which could help to explain the rising use of the contracts.

The minimum wage increased to £7.83 an hour for workers over the age of 25 earlier this year, having gradually risen from a rate of £6.19 an hour in 2012.

The report found a large proportion of workers on zero-hours contracts were paid at, or slightly above, the minimum wage. “Such relatively low pay, coupled with limited and fragmented hours, implies high levels of earnings insecurity for workers whose only option is to work on this type of arrangement.”

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