Joblessness and zero-hours contracts up amid no-deal Brexit threat

Joblessness is on the rise as the number of people on zero-hours contracts skyrockets, according to the latest employment figures published this week.

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Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published on Monday (August 13) showed that there were 1.3m people out of work, up 31,000 from the beginning of the year, reflecting the steepest increase since the end of 2017.

The recent rise in unemployment has come at a time when zero-hours contracts – which grant workers no set hours and as a result severe wage insecurity – has increased to near-record levels. There are now 896,000 British workers on zero-hours contracts – up a staggering 15 per cent over the last year.

While the overall number of people in work has reached record levels, now standing at nearly 33m people, and wage growth hit an 11-year high of 3.9 per cent between April and June, workers’ wages have yet to recover from the financial crisis.

The most recent wage growth rise is also in part attributed to the unusual time that many public sector workers received a pay rise last year which was deferred until July.

The latest figures showing a recent rise in unemployment, coupled with a steady fall in the number of vacancies over the last six months, reveals trouble ahead for a labour market wobbling from the impending threat of a no-deal Brexit.

Commenting on the latest figures, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned, “With wages not yet recovered from the financial crisis, workers now face the risk of a new recession. And although full-time employment is up, the fall in vacancies is a worrying sign.

“A no-deal Brexit would shrink the economy, wipe out jobs and hold back pay,” she added. “No responsible Prime Minister would ever consider causing that kind of crisis.

“The government must protect jobs and pay by ruling out a no-deal Brexit and putting urgent investment into public services to support growth.”

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner agreed.

“The government may crow at the latest headline figures of high overall employment, but if we dig a little deeper, we unearth worrying trends that cannot be ignored.

“We were told zero-hours contracts were on their way out – but now we see in the last year a massive increase in these contracts which have left hundreds of thousands of workers not knowing whether they’ll be able to make ends meet from one day to the next,” he added.

“We’re told that wages are up – but largely because of outlying, one-off trends skewing the numbers such as a pay rise for public sector workers after years of pay freezes.”

“We cannot ignore the fact that the increasingly likely threat of a no-deal Brexit is very much on the horizon – the effects of this threat are being felt now, as both employment and vacancies fell in the last few months and redundancies increased. This is only the beginning of what will be ticking time bomb for people’s livelihoods – we urge the government to see sense and take a no-deal Brexit off the table now.”