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NIESR: International study demonstrates importance of new legislation to help Britain’s insecure workers

A new study carried out by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research for the TUC reveals that the UK has seen significant growth in insecure forms of employment compared to other EU countries. The study, published this morning, links the growth to relatively weak legal protections for those in bogus self-employment, agency work and on zero-hour contracts.

NIESR researchers found that:

  • The UK had the largest increase in the number of self-employed workers for EU countries from 2008 to 2015
  • The UK had the third largest increase in the number of temporary workers for EU countries from 2008 to 2015

The UK’s high placement for growth in these categories of work cannot be explained simply as a result of strong employment growth overall. Germany had the fastest overall employment growth of any EU country during the period, but its number (and proportion) of temporary and self-employment workers has fallen.

The report finds that the absence of effective legislation in the UK to regulate insecure work has allowed the growth of atypical employment, like zero-hours contracts. By contrast, atypical workers elsewhere in the EU tend to have stronger legal protections and greater job security. For example:

  • In France, workers can only be on a fixed-term contract for 18 months, and Germany has introduced a maximum hiring period of 18 months for temporary agency workers.
  • Zero-hours contracts do not exist in many EU countries, and are strongly regulated in others (e.g. Netherlands, Italy, Germany), but only lightly regulated in the UK. In the Netherlands, for example, employers are required to pay for 3 hours per shift, and to provide regular hours when the worker reaches a certain number of weekly hours over a given period.

NIESR Researcher Nathan Hudson-Sharp said: “While insecure work in other European countries has been characterised by the emergence of regulation and policy, the UK has noticeably lacked much needed new legislation.

“The UK therefore stands out for having very precarious forms work, and for creating arrangements where workers are at particular risk of insecurity.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We don’t need to accept insecure jobs as a necessary evil to get more people into work. In Germany, employment growth has been the strongest in the EU, but at the same time insecure employment has declined.

“It’s time Britain stopped being a soft touch on bad bosses. Otherwise the dodgy practices we’ve seen from employers like Hermes and Sports Direct will spread to more and more working people.

“All the parties must explain in their election manifestos how they will improve the rights of working people. There are millions of insecure workers in Britain who need a government that will flex its muscles to fight their corner, and stand up to bosses who treat them badly.

“If countries like France, the Netherlands and Germany can give their working people more protection, Britain can too.”

Notes to Editors:

  • The full report International Trends in Insecure Work can be found here:
  • The report focuses on:
  1. Temporary employment: workers with zero-hour contracts, fixed term contracts, or doing agency work.
  2. Marginal part-time employment: part-time jobs that have particularly low hours and high insecurity.
  3. Self-employment: workers classified as self-employed contractors, but who have a subordinate relationship with a single employer.



For queries related to the research and methodology, please contact:
Paola Buonadonna   E:    T: 020 7654 1923 or 07710 484152


For queries related to the TUC please contact:

Press Office  T: 020 7467 1248  E:


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