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New analysis shows BME women are significantly overrepresented on zero-hours contracts
  • TUC warns “structural racism in the jobs market is holding BME women back”, trapping them in low-paid jobs with few rights at work 

  • Union body says Labour’s New Deal for Working People would ban zero hours contracts and mark a new chapter in workers’ rights 

Black and minority ethnic (BME) women are now nearly three times as likely to be on zero-hours contracts as white men (6.8% compared to 2.5%), according to new analysis published by the TUC today (Friday). 

The analysis shows that BME workers are significantly overrepresented on zero-hours contracts – characterised by low pay, variable hours and fewer rights and protections for workers – compared to white workers (5.7% compared to 3.2%). 

BME women are the most disproportionately affected group, followed by BME men (6.8% of BME women in work are on these contracts along with 4.8% of BME men). 

White women are also significantly more likely than white men to be on zero-hours contracts (4.0% compared to 2.5%). 

Increase in zero-hours contracts 

The new TUC analysis also reveals that the number of people on zero-hours contracts rose by nearly 150,000 over the last 12 months. There are now 1.18 million people on these contracts. 

The biggest proportional increase has been among BME women. The proportion of BME women on zero-hours contracts has risen by 0.7 percentage points (15,200) over this period – three and a half times faster than the proportion of white men ((which has risen by 0.2 percentage points). 

The TUC says this increase in zero-hours contracts for BME workers reflects “structural racism in the jobs market”. 

TUC analysis published in August revealed the number of BME workers in insecure work more than doubled from 2011 to 2022 (from 360,200 to 836,300). 

Lack of control 

The TUC says zero-hours contracts hand the employer total control over workers’ hours and earning power, meaning workers never know how much they will earn each week, and their income is subject to the whims of managers.  

The union body argues that this makes it hard for workers to plan their lives, look after their children and get to medical appointments. And it makes it harder for workers to challenge unacceptable behaviour by bosses because of concerns about whether they will be penalised by not being allocated hours in future.  

Such insecurity can be particularly challenging for those who have caring responsibilities, who are overwhelmingly women, says the TUC. 

Low pay 

The TUC is also concerned that the surge in BME women on zero-hours contracts is leaving these workers trapped in poverty on low-paid jobs. 

One in three (31%) of the 155,000 BME women on zero-hours contracts work in health and social work. And within this industry, we know that it’s BME women working in residential care activities who are most likely to be employed on zero-hours contracts. The median hourly pay for the sector is £12.01 in 2023. 

A recent TUC report found that social care is facing a staffing crisis stemming from endemic low pay and insecure work, which hits their predominantly female workforces hard. The union body says this is having a huge negative impact on children and adults receiving social care and is placing huge strain on the NHS. 

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “Everyone deserves to be treated fairly at work.   

“But too many Black and minority ethnic workers – especially women – are trapped in low-paid jobs on zero-hours contracts, with limited rights and protections and no guarantee of shifts so they can’t plan their budgets and childcare from one week to the next. 

“The significant and disproportionate concentration of BME workers on zero-hours contracts points firmly to the structural racism in our jobs market. 

“It’s time to tackle the discrimination that holds BME workers back once and for all – and ensure that everyone has access, to a decent, secure job.  

“Labour’s New Deal for Working People would help to do this – marking a new chapter for workers’ rights in this country. 

“It would ban zero hours contracts, deliver fair pay agreements to boost pay and standards in social care, and introduce a duty on employers to report their ethnicity pay gap – all changes that would have a big impact on BME workers. 

“And this boost to rights at work would be delivered in the first 100 days of a new government in an employment bill.” 

New Deal for Working People 

The TUC is calling for government action to end the scourge of insecure work. 

The union body says Labour’s New Deal for Working People would be a gamechanger for workers’ rights –including those on zero hours contracts. 

Labour has pledged to deliver new rights for working people in an employment bill in its first 100 days. 

Labour’s new deal would: 

  • Strengthen collective bargaining by introducing fair pay agreements to boost pay and conditions – starting in social care.  

  • Introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting and disability pay gap reporting  

  • Ban zero hours contracts to help end the scourge of insecure work 

  • Give all workers day one rights on the job. Labour will scrap qualifying time for basic rights, such as unfair dismissal, sick pay, and parental leave.  

  • Ensure all workers get reasonable notice of any change in shifts or working time, with compensation that is proportionate to the notice given for any shifts cancelled or curtailed. 

  • Beef up enforcement by making sure the labour market enforcement bodies have the powers they need to undertake targeted and proactive enforcement work and bring civil proceedings upholding employment rights. 

Editors note

- Government action needed: To help tackle structural racism and inequalities in the labour market, and deliver decent, secure jobs, the TUC is calling for ministers to: 

  • Ban the abusive use of zero-hours contracts by giving workers the right to a contract reflecting their normal hours of work and ensure all workers receive adequate notice of shifts, and compensation when shifts are cancelled at short notice. 

  • Establish a comprehensive ethnicity monitoring system covering mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting, recruitment, retention, promotion, pay and grading, access to training, performance management and discipline and grievance procedures. 

  • Introduce fair pay agreements to raise the floor of pay and conditions in sectors blighted by insecure work. 

  • End the two-tier workforce and reform the rules on employment status to ensure that all workers benefit from the same employment rights, including statutory redundancy pay, protection from unfair dismissal, family-friendly rights, sick pay and rights to flexible working. 

  • Introduce corporate reporting obligations for companies to report on employment and pay across their workforce. This would include the number and proportion of workers on variable-hours contracts, like zero-hours contracts. And there should also be reporting on the ability of workers to transfer onto contracts that reflect their normal hours of work, the control staff have over working hours, the notice period given for shifts, and whether shifts are paid if they are cancelled at short notice. 

- Structural racism includes discrimination in recruitment processes, lower opportunities for training and development compared to white workers, being unfairly disciplined, and being stuck in specific roles often with less favourable terms and pay. The TUC says these are “persistent barriers at work” which “hold back” BME workers across different roles and occupations, leaving disproportionate numbers of BME workers stuck in low-paid jobs, with limited rights and on precarious contracts which mean they can find themselves out of work without notice. 
- Number of men and women on zero-hours contracts (TUC analysis of Labour Force Survey, Q2, 2023) 

White 

BME 

Total 

Men 

372,700 

122,900 

495,600 

Women 

528,700 

154,700 

683,400 

Total  

901,400 

277,600 

1,179,000 

 
- Percentage of men and women on zero-hours contracts (TUC analysis of Labour Force Survey, Q2, 2023) 

White 

BME 

Men  

2.5% 

4.8% 

Women  

4.0% 

6.8% 

Total 

3.2% 

5.7% 

- Increase of men and women on zero-hours contracts (TUC analysis of Labour Force Survey, Q2 2022 to Q2 2023) 

  

White 

BME 

Total increase 

Men 

33,300 

15,200 

48,500 

Women 

78,500 

22,700 

101,200 

Total 

111,800 

37,900 

149,700 

- Percentage increase of men and women on zero-hours contracts (TUC analysis of Labour Force Survey, Q2 2022 to Q2 2023) 

White 

BME 

Men  

0.2% 

0.4% 

Women  

0.6% 

0.7% 

Total 

0.4% 

0.5% 

- Pay data using the ONS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2022: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/bulletins/annualsurveyofhoursandearnings/2022  
- About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living. 

Contacts: 

TUC press office  
media@tuc.org.uk   
020 7467 1248  

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