Zero-hours contracts are failing to provide more flexibility to workers and are instead trapping people in low pay, with black and minority workers worse affected.
The problem is particular acute for women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, found research by the TUC and campaigners Race on the Agenda (Rota). Both organisations allege that insecure work operates within a framework of “structural racism”.
One in six zero hours workers were from black and ethnic minority backgrounds compared with one in nine workers overall, the study found, although workers from ethnic minorities only made up one in nine workers overall.
Ignoring the impact of structural workplace racism on our society will see inequality grow and moves us even further away from the equal, thriving society we all want to live in” – Maurice Mcleod, CEO of Rota
The analysis revealed that 2.5% of white men were on zero-hours contracts compared with more than 4% of black men. The corresponding figures for women were 3.2% and 4.5%.
Four in 10 people of colour on zero hours contracts said they had been told they would lose shifts if they turned down work, compared with 25% of white workers in insecure work.
This level of instability means that people’s incomes were subject to the whims of managers leaving them unable to look after their children, keep medical appointments, and plan ahead, the study said.
The authors cite the experiences of people living hand-to-mouth and unable to take sick leave or holidays.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Too many black and minority ethnic workers are stuck on zero-hours contracts, and face a triple whammy of low pay, limited rights, and an increased risk of dying from the virus.”
Among other findings were that three in five (60%) black and minority ethnic insecure workers want more hours of work compared with three in 10 (30%) who did not – while less than half (49%) of white insecure workers wanted to work more hours.
Additionally, more than half of black and minority ethnic (52%) insecure workers on a variable-hours contract would like a fixed-hours contract. Just 27% said they preferred their existing arrangement.
The TUC and Rota called for a ban on zero-hours contracts and would like to see all workers gain a right to a contract that reflects their normal hours of work.
They also urged the creation of corporate reporting obligations that would force bad employers to detail or justify the extent of the use of exploitative work practices such as zero-hours contracts.
O’Grady, added: “This is what structural racism at work looks like – [people from ethnic minorities] getting trapped in jobs with the worst pay and the worst conditions, struggling to pay the bills and feed their families.
“Enough is enough. Ministers must challenge the systemic discrimination that holds workers [from ethnic minority backgrounds] back by banning zero-hours contracts and ending the scourge of insecure work. And they must introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting without delay.”
Maurice Mcleod, the CEO of Rota, said: “People from marginalised communities are already most likely to find themselves on these types of contracts, and this is further embedding inequality into our society. Ignoring the impact of structural workplace racism on our society will see inequality grow and moves us even further away from the equal, thriving society we all want to live in.”