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Zero-hours contracts are still rife – it's time to give all workers the rights they deserve

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Everyone deserves some certainty about the hours they will work each week, so it’s unacceptable that 850,000 workers remain on zero-hours contracts.

Hundreds of thousands of workers are still stuck on insecure zero-hours contracts, according to the government’s latest statistics.

The TUC believes everyone should have the right to a contract that guarantees the hours they work.

But the 850,000 workers on zero-hours contracts do not know how many hours they’ll be working each week. They don’t even know if they’ll get any hours at all.

The number may have fallen by 50,000 since last year, but this is just a drop in the ocean.

And two-thirds of those on zero-hours contracts have been stuck on them for over a year, suggesting that employers are using them as a long-term strategy.      

It is often argued that zero-hours contracts offer flexibility for both the employer and the employee, but many workers say this is an illusion – it is a one-way flexibility for the employer. And many on zero-hours contracts aren’t on them out of choice..

The Government’s response to the Taylor Review was to introduce the ‘right to request’ a more stable and predictable contract after six months in the job. We have repeatedly said the ‘right to request’ is no right at all. It provides workers with the option to ask, but no right to receive, so the power dynamic remains firmly in favour of the employer.

A TUC-commissioned poll of workers on zero-hours contracts found that:

  • More than half (51%) have had shifts cancelled at less than 24 hours’ notice.
  • Nearly three-quarters (73%) have been offered work at less than 24 hours’ notice.
  • More than a third (35 per cent) have been threatened with not being given shifts in the future if they turn down work.
  • Only a quarter (25%) prefer being on zero-hours contracts.

In addition, the poll found many on zero-hours contracts lose out on the rights that are important to them and which most of us take for granted in the workplace:

  • Only 1 in 8 (12%) get sick pay.
  • Only 1 in 14 (7%) would get redundancy pay.
  • Two-fifths (43%) don’t get holiday pay.
  • Half (47%) do not get written terms and conditions.

Separate TUC analysis shows working hours for those on zero-hours contracts are more likely to be anti-social. They are twice as likely as those on fixed-hours contracts to be working night shifts, and also twice as likely to be working seven days a week.

On top of the unpredictability and anti-social hours, they suffer a pay penalty. Working people on zero-hours contracts have an average hourly pay rate of £7.70, compared to £11.80 for those not on zero - hours.

Zero-hours contracts are prevalent in all regions and nations.

Level and rate of people aged 16 and over on zero–hours contracts, by region/nation

– October to December 2018    


In employment on a zero-hours contract (thousands)

Percentage of people in employment on a zero-hours contract







North East



North West



Yorkshire and The Humber



East Midlands



West Midlands



East of England






South East



South West









Northern Ireland



Source - ONS

They are also prevalent in all industries. However, they are concentrated in accommodation and food, and health and social work, where over a fifth of the industry are on zero-hour contracts. 

Level and rate of people aged 16 and over on zero–hours contracts, by industry

– October to December 2018

Source - ONS

Those on zero-hours contracts are often trapped in jobs that are so insecure they’re unable to plan childcare or their finances.

That’s why we’re calling for an outright ban on zero-hours contracts and for workers to get guaranteed hours that allow them to pay bills and plan ahead.

They deserve a contract that reflects the reality of their working life and provides them with employment rights that should be a given, such as sick pay and holiday pay.

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