Job figures skewed by zero hours ‘epidemic’

Zero hours workers are in a 'precarious' position, according to the GMB.

Zero hours workers are in a 'precarious' position, according to the GMB. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Unemployment is at a record low in the South West – but an ‘epidemic’ of ‘precarious’ zero hours and agency work is hiding a ‘frightening’ real picture, says union GMB.

New figures released this week show employment in the South West has hit 79.1 per cent, which is comfortably higher than the national figure of 74.8 per cent.

In North Somerset, just 1,265 people are now claiming jobseekers’ allowance, which represents a 62 per cent drop over the past five years.

Weston-super-Mare’s JobCentre manager Sally Forest believes major development to the north and south is playing a key role in getting people into work.

She said: “The job market is good at the moment, there is a lot of development in Avonmouth which is providing lots of jobs.

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“We have also got Hinkley Point C on our doorstep and companies like Alliance Care, which we work closely with.

“We know there is a lack of carers in the area, so we are working to provide people with the skills they need for those jobs.”

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However, not everything is rosy on the area’s jobs front, according to GMB regional secretary John Philips.

Research by the union shows the number of workers employed on either a zero hours contract or on an agency basis has doubled in the past five years alone.

That means some 145,000 people in the South West now work only on this basis – prompting the GMB to criticise employers and accuse companies of placing profits ahead of the security of their workers.

Mr Philips said: “These figures lift the lid on the insecure reality of the modern world of work.

“Here on our own doorstep in the South West we are witnessing an epidemic of precarious work – and it is growing at a frightening rate among our women workers.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are going to work not knowing what their hours are, if they’ll be able to pay the bills, or what their long term prospects are.

“Many of these companies can afford to treat their workers better but instead put fat profit margins before people.

“We need a Government that is prepared to ban zero hours contracts.”

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