Two-thirds of zero-hours workers want guaranteed hours – time for government to act

Published date
04 Dec 2017
Zero-hours workers in the UK are struggling to make ends meet, missing out on basic rights at work, and being refused reasonable notice of their hours.

Yet bad bosses continue to claim that zero-hours workers appreciate the “choice and flexibility” of their contracts. And disappointingly, Matthew Taylor gave credence to the claim in his review of modern employment practices.

But new TUC polling, published today, should put this absurd myth to bed.

We’ve found that two-thirds of zero-hours workers want jobs with guaranteed hours, compared to just 25 per cent who prefer being on zero-hours.

For many, the only reason they stay on zero-hours contracts is because it’s the only type of work available. Not because they like their contracts, as bosses claim, but because they’re hardworking people who like having a job. Even if the conditions are rubbish they’ll stick around and try to make the best of it.

At the TUC, we think workers deserve better. That’s why we’re campaigning for great jobs for everyone – so that no one is forced into insecure, low-paid work because they lack any better option.

A great job is one where workers are paid and treated fairly, have guaranteed hours and have their rights respected. But most zero-hours workers are a very long way from this ideal.

More than half have had shifts cancelled at less than 24-hours’ notice. 59 per cent want more hours than they usually get, and 54 per cent say they struggle to pay the bills because they can’t get enough work.

The picture on rights is bleak as well, with many zero-hours workers missing out on the very basics, which most of us take for granted. Only one in eight get sick pay, two-fifths don’t get holiday pay and half don’t have written terms and conditions. 

What’s more, the flexibility that employers promise is frequently a sham. If you turn work down, there’s an implicit threat that you could lose out in future, so people feel compelled to work whenever they’re asked.

This can be especially tough for working mums and dads. Planning childcare is a nightmare if you don’t know what hours you’ll be working from one week to the next, or how much money you’ll have.

So Taylor was right to flag the risk of “one-sided flexibility”, which gives employers all the advantages while workers bear the risk.

But his recommendations are nowhere near bold enough. We called for a ban on zero-hours contracts. And we want those who work regular hours to have a contract which guarantees that work long term. Instead he proposed a “right to request” guaranteed hours, which is no right at all for the most insecure workers.

In the coming weeks, we’re expecting the government’s response to the Taylor Review. So let’s see a proper crackdown on bad bosses who treat their staff like disposable labour.

That means ending the regular use of zero-hours contracts, ensuring that workers get premium pay for non-contracted hours and compensation when shifts are cancelled at short notice. And it means ensuring all workers, including agency workers and those on zero-hours contracts, get the same rights as employees when at work.

This is a crucial moment. Bad employers are getting away with Victorian-style exploitation, hidden behind new technologies. And the younger generation of workers have been treated so badly for so long that they think it’s normal.

So there’s lots we need to do to ensure that the jobs of the future work for working people. But ditching zero-hours contracts would be a pretty good place to start.