The number of contracts without guaranteed hours rose to 1.8 million in the year up to November 2017, up from 1.7 million in 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
However, the ONS said that the figures should be “treated with caution” as reporting the data became compulsory between the two periods.
The agency also found that the number of people employed on such contracts as their main job in the three months to December 2016 was 901,000, or about 2.8% of all people in employment.
Statisticians said that the sharp rise of people on zero-hours contracts, which was at 190,000 in 2011, might be due to increased media coverage and more people recognising they are on this type of contract. The highest number recorded by the survey was 2.1 million in March 2015, when they accounted for 7% of all contracts.
The use of zero-hours contracts has been criticised in recent years, with some arguing that they undermine job security. The Taylor Review, commissioned by the government last year, recommended that there should be a higher minimum wage for zero-hours employees.
Stephen Clarke, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said that the government must take steps to provide rights to guaranteed hours for employees on this type of contract.
“The use of zero-hours contracts increased rapidly in the wake of the financial crisis but our tightening labour market has curbed their growth,” he said.
“Nonetheless around 900,000 workers are on a zero-hours contract, including one in 12 young people. And while some workers appreciate the flexibility they bring, for others they bring insecurity and lower pay. The government can help both of these groups by providing a right to guaranteed hours for anyone who has in practice been doing regular hours on a zero-hours contract for at least three months.”
Employees should be given more input into working practices, employment director at Business in the Community (BITC) Catherine Sermon added.
“Low-paid work is not always a stepping stone out of poverty. Too many people face the choice between a job that fails to take them out of poverty or continued unemployment – which is no choice at all,” Sermon said.
“Too often decisions are taken or working practices are designed without engagement and involvement of staff. Better decisions could be made with this involvement. Innovation is also needed to find new solutions. Many people want the flexibility of zero-hours contracts, but for those that they don’t work for, the impact can be incredibly destabilising and trap them in poverty.”