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TUC: Insecure work up by a quarter since 2011

The number of people in insecure work – those working without guaranteed hours or baseline employment rights – has shot up by more than 660,000 (27%) over the past five years, according to new research published today (Tuesday) by the TUC. 

  • Number of waiters and care workers in insecure work more than doubles in five years
  • Teachers, care workers and waiters driving the increase

This growth in people being forced into precarious work that leaves them vulnerable is being driven mainly by traditional industries, rather than newer tech sectors:

  • Restaurant and pub waiters make up one fifth of the increase: The number in insecure work more than doubled, rising by 146,000 (+128%) since 2011. 1 in 4 waiting staff (259,000) are now stuck in insecure work.
  • Education workers account for over one tenth of the increase: The number in insecure work has risen by 82,000 since 2011 (+42%). 1 in 10 working in education now face insecurity and all the problems that go alongside that.
  • Social care accounts for a tenth of the increase in precarious working. The number of care home workers facing insecurity has risen by 66,000 (+133%) since 2011. Over 1 in 10 are now in insecure jobs.

The TUC estimates that over 3 million people now work in insecure jobs – up from 2.4 million in 2011. That represents 1 in 10 workers in the UK.

The study, commissioned by the TUC from the Learning and Work Institute, defines insecure work as seasonal, casual, temporary or agency work, those on zero-hours contracts and low-paid self-employed workers.

The TUC says what all these contracts have in common is that they leave working people in the position where:

  • Their wages can fluctuate without warning
  • They find it hard to get their basic employment rights respected
  • They miss out on key protections like sick pay; and
  • They are at the mercy of bosses who can withdraw their hours or even take them off the job with no notice.

The TUC is publishing a league table of industries where workers are most likely to face insecurity. This includes:

  • Arts and entertainment (2 in 3)
  • Domestic workers (2 in 5)
  • Transport services such as freight (1 in 3)
  • Clothes manufacturing (1 in 4)

The findings also show that people in unionised workplaces are twice as likely to be in secure jobs.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Insecurity at work is becoming the new normal for too many workers.  It’s happening across new and old industries, with workers forced onto shady contracts whether they’re Uber drivers, bar staff or teaching assistants.

“People need jobs they can live on and build a life around. But if you don't how much work you will have from one day to the next, making ends meet is a nightmare.

“How is a working parent supposed to plan childcare when they don’t know the hours they’ll be working? And how can it be right that in 2017 workers are at the mercy of bad bosses who can just take away all their hours or throw them off the job with no notice?

“The rules that protect workers need to be dragged into the 21st Century. The government’s Taylor review is a prime opportunity to sort this.

“But we also need to get more people into unions.  Workers in unionised workplaces are twice as likely to be on secure contract. So I say to working people: if you’re not in a union, get some mates together and all sign up if you want a better deal at work."

Notes to Editors:

  • The TUC has a case study available for interview. Please contact the press office for further details.
  • The TUC commissioned research from the Learning and Work Institute, which analysed figures from the ONS’ Labour Force Survey. All changes cover the period of October-December 2011 to October-December 2016.
  • The study defines insecure work as seasonal, casual, temporary or agency work, those on zero-hours contracts, or those self-employed in low paid sectors: admin and secretarial, caring and leisure work, customer service, process plant and machine operatives, elementary occupations, and artistic and design occupations (in associate professionals).
  • 15% of workers in unionised workplaces are in insecure work, compared with 30% for non-unionised.

Job insecurity league table:

Name of sector

Further info on types of jobs and workplaces

% of workers insecure

Creative, arts and entertainment

Actors, artists


Other personal service activities

Hairdressing, fitness instructors


Other prof, scientific and technical

Photography, translation


Domestic personnel

People employed by one household, e.g. butlers, maids


Film, video, television sound record

TV runners, sound artists etc


Land transport including via pipelines

Taxi drivers, train drivers, lorry drivers


Sports, amusement, recreation

Those working in sports clubs or theme parks


Services to buildings and landscape

Cleaners, window cleaners


Employment activities

Those working directly for temp agencies


Food and beverage service activities

Waiters and cooks in pubs, catering, restaurants


Manufacture of leather and related

Shoe and handbag manufacturing


Manufacture of wearing apparel

Clothes factories


Social work without accommodation

Caring for the elderly not in homes, child care





Postal and courier activities

Postmen, those working for courier companies


Libraries, archives, museums



Residential care activities

Those working in care homes


Forestry and logging



Advertising and market research

Advertising agencies, opinion polling


Security & investigation activities

Security guards


Travel, tour operator, reservation



  • All TUC press releases can be found at tuc.org.uk/media
  • TUC Press Office on Twitter: @tucnews


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