New figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey showed that in 2016, there were 110,000 more people – across all industries ‒ on contracts that do not guarantee any work, compared to 2015.
This equates to an increase of just over 14 per cent, and a rise of 30 per cent compared to 2014.
ZHCs are often used in hospitality businesses – and those such as delivery firm Deliveroo ‒ for more casual workers, who may welcome the flexibility that they can provide.
Employees on ZHCs usually receive benefits such as paid annual leave, but do not have to accept work when it is offered to them. However, ZHCs are often criticised for leaving workers in precarious situations, and keeping them bound to a contract without actually guaranteeing work or pay.
Hospitality ZHCs slowing down
Yet, despite the continued growth of ZHCs, the last half of 2016 actually showed a significant slowing down in the national increase.
Similarly, this time last year, ONS figures suggested that the use of ZHCs in the hospitality industry specifically had dramatically declined, with just 26 per cent of restaurants, hotels and pubs using the contracts by the end of 2015, compared to 53 per cent in 2014.
Commentators have suggested – such as Conor D'Arcy, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, who spoke to BBC News ‒ that this could be due to rising employment levels overall, meaning that workers can be more demanding about the kinds of contracts they sign.
Companies may also be waking up to ZHCs’ bad reputation, and might have changed their policy in fear of bad press or push back from staff.
Reputation-wise, pubco JD Wetherspoon is one high-profile firm to have addressed the issue, having publicly given many of its thousands of staff the option to move from ZHCs to a contract that would guarantee minimum hours.
In 2014, business advisors MHA said that despite ZHCs’ poor reputation, over 60 per cent workers in the sector on these contracts were regularly working more than 20 hours a week, and 75 per cent were working more than 40 hours per week.