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UK - Involuntary temporary jobs driving rising employment

12 August 2013

Almost half of the rise in UK employment since 2010 has been in temporary work, according to a TUC analysis of official figures published today, ahead of the latest unemployment figures on Wednesday.

The TUC analysis of the labour force survey shows that between December 2010 and December 2012 the number of temporary workers increased by +89,000 to reach 1,650,000 - +46% of the total rise in employment.

The UK's temporary workforce has been growing for a number of years, increasing by 230,000 since 2005. Over the same period the number of permanent of jobs has fallen by -8,000. The analysis claims that people engaging in temporary work as a substitute for permanent work (involuntary temporary work) has been growing sharply for a number of years.

In 2005, the number of involuntary temporary workers was 263,298, broadly similar to the number of 'voluntary' temporary workers who didn't want a permanent job numbering 243,703. However, by the end of 2012 the number of involuntary temporary workers had more than doubled to 655,000, while the number of voluntary temporary workers has increased by +42% to 345,000.

Some employer organisations say that staff are happy with temporary or fixed-term work because it offers them greater flexibility. However, the TUC suggests that official statistics do not support this claim, with involuntary temporary workers now outnumbering voluntary temporary workers by almost two to one.

The most common form of temporary work is contract or fixed term work, though the number of people doing these jobs has fallen by -19,000 over the last two years. In contrast, casual work - for example, someone who is not part of the permanent workforce but supplies work on an irregular basis - has been the fastest growing form of temporary work, soaring by +62,000 in the last two years alone.

The TUC believes that the rise of involuntary and casual temporary work, along with increases in involuntary part-time work and zero-hours contracts, show that beneath the headline employment figures lies an increasingly insecure, vulnerable workforce. Too many workers are not working enough hours to get by, or have no guarantee of paid work from one week to the next, according to the TUC.

A recent report from the TUC also found that four out of five new jobs created since 2010 have been in industries where the average wage was less than £8 an hour. This shows that many new jobs are not only insecure and short-term, but are likely to be low paid too, according to the TUC.

The report claims that the increased casualisation of the workforce is bad for workers, who are likely to earn less, and are unable to progress their careers or plan ahead. It is also bad for the economy as low-paid, insecure work is less productive and holds back consumer spending power.

The TUC has accused the government of making the lives of people stuck in short-term, insecure jobs even tougher. Ministers have reportedly cut basic rights at work, made it easier for bad bosses to mistreat staff without fear of legal redress, and are now considering making it even easier to sack people.

The TUC warns that unless the government takes steps to encourage better working practices and the creation of good quality, permanent jobs, workers across the UK will get trapped in low-paid work with poor career prospects, and their living standards will continue to fall as a result.

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Unemployment has been lower than originally feared when the recession hit. But beneath the surface lies an increasingly insecure and vulnerable workforce. Millions of people have taken shorter hours, temp jobs and zero hours contracts in order to stay afloat during the recession and stagnation. But while poor pay and no career prospects may be better than the dole, these kind of jobs will not raise living standards or create a meaningful recovery for most people.” 

"The fact that casualised labour continues to grow even during this 'so-called' recovery suggests that the labour market is far more fragile than headline figures suggest. Ministers need to acknowledge the problems of under-employment and insecure work, as it is eroding people's living standards. Cutting basic rights at work and making it easier for bad bosses to mistreat staff will only make things worse," she added. 

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