Number of workers on zero-hours contracts drops to three-year low

The number of people on zero-hours contracts in the UK has fallen to its lowest level in more than three years, as companies appear to be moving away from employing staff without guaranteed working hours.

There were an estimated 1.4m contracts that did not guarantee a minimum number of hours in May, down from 1.7m in the same month a year ago, and the lowest since January 2014, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday.

While the overall number fell, the percentage of these contracts as a share of all employment agreements remained unchanged at 5%.

David Freeman, a senior labour market statistician at the ONS, said: “It seems possible that the trend towards this type of work has begun to unwind.”

The latest figures show a break in the upward trend for zero-hours contracts, which have drawn the ire of politicians and union leaders. Businesses including Sports Direct have been heavily criticised for using them, while a group of McDonald’s workers went on strike over low wages and the use of zero hours contracts.

The Labour party has called on such contracts to be banned. Theresa May’s employment tsar, Matthew Taylor, refused to ban them in his sweeping review of Britain’s labour market published in July, although called for workers on zero hours to be given the right to request a permanent contract.

The ONS found someone on a zero-hours contract works 26 hours a week on average, while more than a quarter want more hours. Most want more hours in their current job, as opposed to seeking extra work with a different employer. By comparison, 7.2% of other people in employment wanted to work more hours.

Large businesses are estimated to be the heaviest users of employment agreements that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours. Administrative support businesses are the heaviest users, followed by accommodation and food services.

Women make up more than half of those saying they have zero-hours contracts, and there are significant numbers of young people and students.

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