“The new figures for 2013 get us much closer to the actual level of zero hours contracts in the labour market. But we should be cautious about taking the huge jump in numbers between 2012 and 2013 at face value. It is very unusual to see such a big increase in such a short period of time in the labour market statistics.
“The Office for National Statistics warns that there may be significant under-reporting in earlier years, as people previously may not have been aware that they are not a zero hours contract. The high levels of publicity in recent months mean that many more people may be reporting being on zero hour contracts in 2013 compared with 2012.
“There is also no reason to think employers have dramatically increased their use of zero hours contracts in the way suggested by the figures. The largely adverse criticism over the past twelve months of zero hours contracts may have discouraged some employers who would have otherwise have used them and we know that some employers have said they will review their use of zero hours contracts. Nor has there been any large scale one-off event – such as the Olympics – which might account for the increase.
“The ONS is in the process of revising its methodology for calculating the number of people on zero hour contracts. It intends to use a survey of businesses on top of the Labour Force Survey, which surveys individuals. This should give a more accurate figure, because as the recent spike suggests there are people working on zero hour contracts who do not recognise the term, and so when surveyed, do not report being on such a contract. Employers should be better aware of the terminology. Depending on the number of remaining people that are unaware they are working on zero hour contracts, therefore, the new methodology may lead to a further increase in the zero hours figure. The ONS has said it will release statistics using the new methodology in April.”
Notes to editors
1. Ian Brinkley, chief economist is available for interviews, briefings and written comment.
2. The Work Foundation aims to be the leading independent, international authority on work and its future, influencing policy and practice for the benefit of society. The Work Foundation is part of Lancaster University – an alliance that enables both organisations to further enhance their impact.
3. More about The Work Foundation and zero hours contracts here