The number of workers in jobs without any guarantee of regular hours or pay nearly doubled during last year to reach 200,000, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.
The contracts – now used by almost a quarter of Britain’s major employers – legally allow firms to employ staff, often in low paid jobs, without any guarantee of actual work, or income reports The Telegraph.
In turn workers are able to turn down work and go for other jobs as they are not contracted to work any hours.
Last month, Government figures showed the number of people in work had risen to 29.73 million – the highest level since records began in 1971 – during the three months to the end of December.
During the same period 200,000 people were employed on zero hours contracts.
The agreements have been heavily criticised, with UNISON claiming they “present huge drawbacks in comparison to permanent regular work”.
They leave workers uncertain over their future and income, people are forced to disrupt their lives by answering calls to work at the last moment, and they have shown themselves to be “more open to abuse”, the union claims.
In 2005 there were 55,000 people on zero hours contracts in Britain. That rose to 110,000 people between April and June last year. The figure nearly doubled to 200,000 between October and December last year.
One worker, who asked not to be named, told ITV News that she was promised plenty of hours but the reality was very different, and on occasion she had been called in then sent home again without a shift.
She said: “It’s difficult….sometimes they make you wait around for an hour to see if there are any positions available. If there aren’t you have to go home and that’s a day’s wage lost.”
Sarah Veale, of the TUC, said: “It is a sign of desperation that people will take anything at the moment…we’re not valuing people, we’re just looking at them as industrial fodder”
Others have defended the contracts, claiming they are keeping people in work who would otherwise be unemployed.
They are used by the Co-op – which employs around a fifth of its funeral staff this way – the House of Lords, Boots, Bupa, Cineworld, Centerparcs, and the NHS.
The number of people employed under zero hours contracts changes seasonally – rising in the run up to Christmas and falling through the summer, ONS figures show.