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Large rise in UK workers on "zero hours" contracts

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Many of the UK's largest employers regularly employ workers on "zero hours" contracts, which keep staff on standby and deny them regular hours.

Figures published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found the number of workers in jobs without any guarantee of regular hours or pay nearly doubled in 2012 to reach 200,000.

The contracts, used by almost a quarter of UK employers, legally allow firms to employ staff, often in low paid jobs, without any guarantee of actual work, or income.

In turn workers are able to turn down work and go for other jobs as they are not contracted to work any hours.

According to the Government's guidance to employers, "zero hour contracts" are usually for "piece work" or "on call" work. This means they are on call to work when needed by bosses, employers do not have to give them work and they do not have to take on the work if asked.

In the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations study, it revealed that the proportion of firms with some workers on "zero hour" contracts rose from 11% in 2004 to 23% in 2011.

Sarah Veale, head of the equality and employment rights department at 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."

Kevin Green, chief executive, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), said the rise of zero hours contracts is one of the factors that has kept our unemployment rate down.

And for many businesses, Green believes using zero hours has been a way to keep staff costs down, and therefore stay afloat.

He said it is better to have any job than no job at all, and added: "You could be saying this is keeping 200,000 people in work who may not have been in work if it wasn't for these sorts of contracts."