The term “precarious employment” is being used more and more. Another term for it is the “gig economy”. A Government-commissioned inquiry into modern employment practices is gearing up. Precarious workers are those who fill permanent job needs but are denied permanent employee rights. They are subject to unstable employment, lower wages and even more dangerous working conditions. They rarely receive family-friendly rights or pensions and are often denied the right to join a union. Women, minorities and migrant workers are much more likely to fill these kinds of jobs.

The number of workers in the UK in precarious positions has grown by almost 2 million in the last ten years. This comes as a result that more and more businesses prefer using more self-employed workers and are increasingly recruiting staff on temporary and zero-hours contracts.


More than 7 million Britons in “precarious employment” 1For example, companies such as Tesco and Argos use thousands of agency temps. Also, currently, Sainsbury’s is using 54 different employment agencies for its temporary warehouse workers. The taxi company Uber are among firms relying on 4.7 million “self-employed” workers, although see our recent article on the legal challenge by two of its drivers.

The increase in precarious workers has stirred up anxiety about low pay to the extent that more than 10,000 people called the Acas helpline from May to September 2016 voicing concerns that they were not receiving the statutory minimum. This is a 73% increase on the same period last year. This means that the UK currently has more full-time employees in low pay (as a percentage) than all but seven of the 22 developed nations in the OECD.

The long-term employment trend has hit young adults the hardest. The proportion of working 16- to 20-year-olds in low pay rose from 58% in 1990 to 77% in 2015, while the proportion aged 21 to 25 rose from 22% to 40%, according to Resolution Foundation analysis. This can hardly be encouraging for the next generation of employees. However, older workers have become less likely to suffer from low pay.

There are currently about 750,000 more people are on zero-hours contracts than in 2006, and over 200,000 more people are working as temps, according to the government’s labour force survey.

It remains to be seen if these statistics will be affected by the formal trigger of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by Prime Minister Theresa May – see our Brexit series for more details.

By Gina Mukova

Image used under CC courtesy of Ding Yuin Shan