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Zero hours contracts and youth employment

Saturday, May 18, 2013
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From the employer's point of view, a zero hours contract is a great example of the benefits of the flexible labour market. They allow the employer to change the number of hours an employee works each week, with more shifts offered when they are busy, and fewer when they are not; costs can therefore be controlled and matched more exactly to revenue. Neil Carberry at the CBI says that they have helped to save jobs during the recession and stagnant growth: "It's zero hours contracts and other forms of flexible working that mean there are half a million fewer unemployed people than there might otherwise have been." Now figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show the number of 16 to 24-year-olds on zero hours contracts has more than doubled since the start of the economic downturn, rising from 35,000 in 2008 to 76,000 in 2012. This means that one in every three people on a zero-hours contract is under 25 (- although that proportion doesn't look as if it has changed very dramatically throughout the period shown). If this is good for the employer, how is it for the employee?


That depends on their circumstances. Some are only seeking part-time work either because they are studying, or in order to fit around childcare arrangements, and for them the flexible contracts work pretty well. However for others, who have regular outgoings of rent and household expenses to meet, the uncertainty and irregular income can create a real difficulty. Most of the jobs offered this way are with employers such as the fast food outlets like McDonalds and Subway, and high street chains like Boots and Sports Direct. As the graph above shows there seems to be a seasonal pattern to them, with higher numbers at the end of most years than in April- June, and a particularly significant rise in the total number of zero-hours contracts in the fourth quarter of 2012 to over 200,000. They seem to be a way of employers managing to deal with the difficulties of prolonged slow growth and lack of confidence, and raise the question of whether a job with uncertain hours is better than no job at all.



 

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