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Zero-hour contracts have proved a great success for the UK Government in terms of reducing employment figures. The arrangement entails that a person is employed on an ‘on call’ basis where they are not guaranteed work, only paid for the hours they work but expected to be available when called for.This is a great solution for employers who are in need of a flexible workforce due to an unpredictable workload, but no so great for workers with no job security and living close to the poverty line.  There are currently 2.7 million people in the UK on zero-hour contracts of which 55% are women.

Zero Hour Disruption
Although at first glance it looks as though zero-hour contracts are gender neutral, looking closer there is a distinct difference between how men and women are affected by the employment agreement. Most employees in zero-hour contracts work in high-skilled professions as consultants of technical areas. For these the zero-hour contract probably means taking home a higher hourly salary and greater flexibility in terms of working hours. Women in the same professions seem to be more likely to take the lower salary that comes with a “normal” contract but with the associated benefits.

Instead, we find most of the 55% female zero-hour contract employees among the unskilled workforce. As much as 1 in 8 of low paid women are on zero-hour contracts. For these women the contract type might be the only one available to them and so fall under the category of “something is better than nothing”. For others it might be the only option that offers enough flexibility to manage the different needs of a family.

For the purpose of statistics, the zero-hour contracts are keeping 2.7 million in employment contracts. What the statistics doesn’t reveal is that of those, 1.3 million are not offered work on a regular basis. Also, some people hold more than one zero-hour contract as a way to minimise his or her financial vulnerability, so the number of contracts does not match number of people in employment.

Low Pay & No Sick Pay
In addition to not offering a guaranteed monthly income, the employees of zero-hour contracts typically get no paid holidays and no sick pay. The latter is certainly an added burden to low paid workers with families to support. To many the employment type becomes a trap but since it’s keeping unemployment data down the question is whether the Government is all that keen on taking a closer look at what’s really going on.

Profile photo of James Sinclair About James Sinclair
James Sinclair is a freelance write. He graduated from University College London with a first class honours degree in social policy. James is studying for a masters about the impact of the creation of a Universal Credit Union on low income families.

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