Types of employment

In 2008 the TUC Commission on Vulnerable Employment explored the extent of exploitation in workplaces in the UK. At the time, the Commission estimated that around two million workers in the UK found themselves in vulnerable employment. The Commission defined vulnerable work as precarious work that places people at risk of continuing poverty and injustice resulting from an imbalance of power in the employer-worker relationship. Six years later, evidence gathered by the TUC reveals that working conditions for many in the UK have not improved. Instead for those at the bottom end of the labour market, the struggle for a decent day’s work in return for decent pay and conditions has intensified.

In 2014 millions of workers are still trapped in low-paid, highly insecure jobs, where mistreatment is the norm and where there is limited prospect of escape. Our findings suggest that those at the greatest disadvantage in society – women and young workers – are most likely to find themselves in precarious work.

Employment contracts: zero hours

Of particular concern has been the sharp increase in zero-hours contracts and the widespread use of agency workers in the aftermath of the recession. Too often workers on such contracts face working conditions better suited to the Victorian era than 21st century Britain.

There is a clear link between casual employment and low pay. Those employed in precarious jobs tend not only to experience heightened job insecurity but also a significant pay penalty. Most have seen no benefits from the recovery. Instead they often find it difficult to make ends meet, with some resorting to pay day loans or even food banks to cover basic household bills and feed their families.

But job insecurity in the UK is not limited to low-paid, low-skilled employment. Levels of insecurity are also rising amongst higher skilled and better paid staff working in professional occupations including education, health care and the entertainment sector. University lecturers, radiographers and even airline pilots have all been affected by the employer drive towards more flexible and insecure forms of work. The unpredictability of their take home pay makes it increasingly difficult for individuals and households to plan financially, to access credit, and to secure mortgages or tenancy agreements.

Click here to read the full report


Do you have an opinion on the use of zero-hours contracts or on how job insecurity in the UK could be addressed? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

For more reports like this one, subscribe to our monthly spam-free future of work newsletter.