Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Britain’s Zero-Hours Contract Craze Might Have Peaked

  • Employment with no guarantee of hours has been in spotlight
  • Government wants more protection for ‘gig economy’ workers

The number of zero-hours employment contracts in the U.K. may have peaked after a surge in recent years.

The Office for National Statistics said there were 1.4 million such contracts -- under which workers have no guaranteed number of hours each week -- in May, down from a peak of 2.1 million two years ago. The figures published Tuesday are based on a survey of U.K. businesses.

“Coupled with figures we’ve already seen from the Labour Force Survey showing a small fall in the number of people who say they’re on zero-hours contracts, it seems possible that the trend towards this type of work has begun to unwind,” said ONS statistician David Freeman.

The use of zero-hours has come under growing scrutiny in Britain, with accusations that the practice exploits workers and some high-profile companies including Sports Direct International Plc coming under fire. A government review of employment practices published in July called for greater protections for such workers, including a higher minimum wage.

The ONS survey showed that about 6 percent of firms make some use of “no guaranteed hours contracts,” though the figures vary across sectors. The highest usage -- almost one quarter -- is by businesses offering administrative and “support services,” with hotels and restaurants at about 10 percent.

— With assistance by Andrew Atkinson

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