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  • NEW ANALYSIS reveals insecure work has taken a hold across the UK and in key worker professions, with 1 in 9 workers in insecure work
  • New TUC polling shows abusive use of zero hours contracts has “markedly increased” since flagship Taylor Review in 2017
  • Seven in ten zero hours workers suffer cancellations at less than a day’s notice
  • TUC warns insecure work could “spiral again” if government repeats mistakes which followed the 2008 financial crisis

The TUC has today (Saturday) called on the government to “finally deliver” on better workers’ rights, four years on from the Taylor Review into modern working practices.

The Taylor Review reported on 11 July 2017, promising “good work for all”. However, the following years have seen few of the review’s proposals implemented. The TUC says implementing the Review’s proposals should have been the “bare minimum”.

According to the union body, since the review, the government has repeatedly failed to deliver on its manifesto promise to boost workers’ rights. The TUC says the removal of the employment bill from this year’s parliamentary agenda was a nadir for the government’s already-poor record on workplace rights.

The TUC warns that without action on workers’ rights, insecure work could spiral out of control again, as it did after the 2008 financial crisis – adding that the prime minister’s levelling up agenda will be in tatters if the government fails to boost rights to decent work.

A nation of insecure work

The call comes as the TUC releases new analysis based on official data which reveals that in the UK today, 1 in 9 (3.6 million) are in insecure work.

The latest figures show that insecure work has taken a hold across the UK. More than one in ten workers are in insecure work in every area of the UK bar two.

New TUC polling, conducted by Britain Thinks and GQR, also shows how insecure workers have been at the sharp end of the pandemic: 

  • Insecure workers are more likely to report their working conditions getting worse in the last year than those in secure occupations (39 per cent to 27 per cent).
  • More than half (55 per cent) of insecure workers, including three quarters (72 per cent) of zero hours workers, had their hours cut due to the pandemic.
  • Insecure workers are ten times more likely than workers in more secure jobs to get nothing when off sick (51 per cent to 5 per cent)

Workers in insecure jobs are having to shoulder greater risk of infection during this pandemic, while facing the “triple whammy” of poor or no sick pay, fewer rights and endemic low pay, according to the union body.

The TUC says the pandemic must be a turning point for workers’ rights, pointing out that many key workers who have helped keep the country going are stuck on insecure contracts, as the new analysis reveals the occupations with the highest rates of precarious work:

  • Nearly one in four (23.1 per cent) of those in elementary occupations including security guards, taxi drivers and shop assistants are in insecure work.
  • More than one in five (21.1 per cent) of those who are process, plant and machine operatives are in insecure work.

Sizable numbers of those in the skilled trades and caring, leisure and other service roles are also in precarious employment.

The union body adds that ending the scourge of insecure work is vital to tackling structural racism in our labour market. The new analysis shows one in six (15.7 per cent) BME men are in in insecure work compared to one in nine (11.1 per cent) white men. BME women are also markedly more like to be in insecure work than white women (12.4 per cent compared to 10.3 per cent).

Recent TUC research showed BME women are twice as likely to be on zero-hours contracts as white men.

Abusive use of zero-hours increasing

The TUC says the rise of zero-hours contracts is emblematic of the broader increase in insecure work after the financial crisis. The union body calls these contracts the most egregious example of one-sided flexibility at work because they hand the employer total control over their workers’ hours and earning power.

New TUC polling, conducted by GQR, shows just how many zero hours contracts are negatively impacted by this one-sided flexibility:

  • More than eight in ten (84 per cent) zero hours workers have been offered shifts with less than a day’s notice;
  • Seven in ten (69 per cent) have suffered cancellations at less than a day’s notice.

The TUC says the abusive use of zero-hours contracts has become more widespread since the Taylor Review, pointing to comparable polling from 2017, which shows there has been a marked increase in short notice shift offers and cancellation. Half (51 per cent) of zero-hours workers reported having had shifts cancelled at less than 24 hours' notice in 2017. And 73 per cent had been offered work at less than 24 hours' notice.

This instability means zero hours workers never know how much they will earn, and their income is subject to the whims of managers. It makes it hard for workers to plan their lives, look after their children and get to medical appointments.

The new TUC polling also makes clear that zero hours contracts jobs aren’t a preferred option for most workers, despite the protestations of employers.

Three quarters of zero hours contract workers (76 per cent) would prefer a fixed contract. And the main reason (45 per cent) workers give for taking on zero-hours work is because it is the only form of work available.

Government must act

To end the grip of insecure work on the UK labour market, the union body is calling on the government to:

  • Ban zero-hours contracts
  • Introduce penalties for employers who mislead people about their employment status and crack down on false self-employment
  • Give workers a right to ‘day one’ flexible working
  • Allow unions to access workplaces to tell people about the benefits of joining a trade union

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Everyone deserves a decent, secure job they can build a life on. But for too many, decent work is impossible to find.

“Many of the care workers, shop staff and delivery drivers who kept the country going during the pandemic are on low pay and insecure contracts. That is not right.

“For years ministers have promised working people improved rights and protections. But they have repeatedly failed to deliver.

“It’s time for the government to get a grip on workers’ rights. Without action on rights, the government risks repeating the mistakes that followed the last financial crisis and letting insecure work spiral again.

“Ministers must seize the opportunity to build back fairer post-pandemic and put an end to the scourge of insecure work by banning zero-hours contracts.”

Editors note

-The TUC report ‘Insecure work’ can be found here:

-BritainThinks online survey was conducted between the 13th and 21st May 2021 with a sample of 2,134 workers in England and Wales – nationally representative according to ONS Labour Force Survey Data.

-GQR Research conducted an online poll of 2,523 respondents aged 16+ in work in Great Britain, between 29th January and 16th February, 2021. Data are weighted to be representative of the national population. The 2017 survey was conducted the same way, with 2987 workers. For more information about GQR please visit: 
- By insecure or precarious work, we mean: (1) agency, casual, seasonal and other workers, but not those on fixed – term contracts, (2) workers whose primary job is a zero-hours contract, (3) self-employed workers who are paid less than the National Living Wage (£8.91).

- TUC sounds alarm over “stark” Covid mortality rates in insecure jobs. TUC 2021

- TUC: BME unemployment is rising 3 times as fast as white unemployment

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.


Priya Rane

TUC press office  
020 7467 1248 

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