Zero-hour contracts now in decline, ONS figures indicate

Number of contracts that fail to guarantee minimum hours has fallen from 1.7 million to 1.4 million

Zero-hour contracts have been criticised as a source of great insecurity among the lowest paid – condemned by the Labour party, trade unions and workers’ campaign groups.

Yet the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show a growing number of businesses may now be dropping the “flexible” arrangement.

The number of contracts that fail to guarantee employees a certain number of hours fell from 1.7 million to 1.4 million.

ONS figures from earlier in the year show 883,000 claiming to be on the infamous contracts, a decline from 903,000 the year before.

Experts say employees do not always know if they are on a zero-hour contract if they have been lucky enough to get regular hours.

It seems possible that the trend towards this type of work has begun to unwind

The share of businesses reporting use of these contracts fell to 6%, a clear downturn from 11% of businesses who said they had adopted the practise back in 2015.

David Freeman of the ONS said: “It seems possible that the trend towards this type of work has begun to unwind.”

The Resolution Foundation, a think tank looking at working life and incomes, said the ONS figures offer “further evidence that the use of (zero-hour contracts) is declining as the labour market tightens.”

The ONS research also shows zero-hour contracts seem most closely related to part-time work. The average contract provided 26 hours a week, and just over 25% of people employed on a zero-hour contract wanted more hours.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, said it was a “national scandal that there are 1.4 million contracts that don’t guarantee minimum hours, with people stuck in limbo in insecure work, not knowing how much they’ll earn from week to week, unable to budget for basic necessities and unsure if they can even pay the rent.”

The Labour MP added: “The government urgently needs to get a grip on the broken labour market.”