More than 30,000 NHS workers are trapped on controversial zero-hour contracts, trade union warns

  • Trade union GMB conducted a review of job adverts to come to its estimate
  • Claimed true number likely higher as stats do not include outsourced workers
  • Critics say contracts used to undercut wages, avoid holiday pay and pensions

More than 30,000 NHS workers in England are trapped on zero-hour contracts, data suggests.

Trade union GMB said, however, the true number is likely to be even higher because statistics do not include outsourced workers.

It claimed the number of staff on the controversial contracts, which don’t guarantee a minimum number of hours, had quadrupled since 2013.  

The union, which has more than 630,000 members, reviewed job adverts to come to its estimate within the NHS. 

More than 30,000 NHS England workers are trapped on zero-hour contracts, data shows (file)

More than 30,000 NHS England workers are trapped on zero-hour contracts, data shows (file)

It said those employed by subsidiary companies not bound by national employment standards may also drive the number up. 

Critics say the contracts are used by employers to undercut wages and avoid holiday pay and pension contributions.

Workers on them do not know how many hours they will work from week to week and can be sacked at the drop of a hat.  

GMB’s research found zero hours roles are still being advertised en masse by NHS employers, private contractors and wholly owned subsidiaries.

It is unclear what types of jobs they were – but they are thought to include a wide-range of roles including nurses, doctors, cardiologists and midwives.

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The union said it had encountered a wide range of problems relating to zero hours contracts in the NHS, including failure to pay proper overtime rates.

WHAT ARE ZERO-HOUR CONTRACTS? 

Zero-hours contracts are also known as casual contracts. 

They do not guarantee a minimum number of hours, unlike part-time or full-time contracts. 

This means employees can turn down work from the employer and vice versa.

Zero-hours workers are entitled to statutory annual leave and the National Minimum Wage in the same way as regular workers.

But they do not get paid sick leave or holiday pay or pensions contributions.

Workers on them do not know how many hours they will work from week to week and can be sacked at the drop of a hat.

As of September 2017, the Office for National Statistics estimated that there are over 900,000 workers on zero-hours contracts, 3 per cent of the entire UK workforce. 

Analysis has showed the typical worker on a zero-hours contract earns 50 per cent less an hour than the typical employee. 

GMB national officer Rehana Azam said: ‘The NHS is under enormous pressure and cuts and privatisation are linked to a rise in so-called gig economy working.

‘If you are employed on a zero hours contract then you are denied financial security and the right to predict your hours, and they can make it impossible to access mortgages.

‘A pressured, demoralised and casualised workforce will end up impacting on patient care.

‘Zero hours contracts have no place in the NHS or elsewhere, and these figures may represent the tip of the iceberg.

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‘We need a new system that preserves some degree of flexibility while ending contracts that do not.’

As of September 2017, the Office for National Statistics estimated that there are over 900,000 workers on zero-hours contracts, three per cent of the entire UK workforce. 

Analysis showed the typical worker on a zero-hours contract earns 50 per cent less an hour than the typical employee.

The median hourly rate for a zero-hours worker is £7.25, while for all employees it is £11.05, the study showed.

The controversial contracts were put under the spotlight in 2016 when it was revealed that 90 per cent of Sports Direct employees were on them. 

Unions have attacked the Government for the lack of action on cracking down on exploitative firms.

Labour, in its election manifesto, has proposed ending zero hours contracts by requiring employers to give all workers a contract that accurately reflects their fixed and regular hours.

The party would also introduce a statutory Real Living Wage of £10 an hour by 2020 for all workers aged 16 or over and ban unpaid internships. 

Nye Cominetti, economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said there was no sign of the contracts disappearing any time soon.

He told MailOnline: ‘Both awareness and use of zero-hours contracts grew rapidly in the wake of the financial crisis, and around 800,000 people are currently estimated to be on one.

‘A tight labour market in recent years has helped curb the rise of atypical work. But unless policy changes they are likely to be a small, but significant, part of our labour market for the foreseeable future.’ 

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MailOnline has approached NHS England for comment. 



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