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Young Welsh workers three times as likely to be on a zero-hours contact as over-25s

02 Dec 2023 3 minute read
A young bakery worker

Martin Shipton

Young Welsh workers aged up to 24 are around three times more likely to be on zero-hours contracts than those aged 25 and over, according to research undertaken by the Wales TUC.

Around one in 12 (8.2%) young workers aged 16 to 24 are employed on zero-hours contracts compared to one in 38 (2.6%) of over 25s.

People employed on zero-hours contracts are classified as ‘workers’ (without employee status), which means they miss out on essential rights like the ability to request flexible working or the right to return to the same job after maternity, adoption, paternity or shared parental leave.

Many zero-hours contract workers also miss out on key social security rights such as full maternity pay and paternity pay.

The report highlights that, across the UK, just under half a million young workers (474,000) are employed on a zero-hours contract. It also reveals that nearly three-quarters (72%) of young employees aged 16 to 24 across the UK miss out on key employment rights at work.

Workplace rights

While some workplace rights for employees begin from day one of employment, others only kick in after two years of continuous service – including protection from unfair dismissal and the right to statutory redundancy pay.

Employees aged 16 to 24 are far less likely to have built up two years of continuous service in the same job, so are much more likely to miss out on key protections. That means nearly three in four young employees (72%) don’t qualify for vital employment rights, compared to around one in four (27%) of working people aged 25 and over.

Young workers are also paid less. Median hourly pay for 16 to 17-year-olds is £8 per hour and £10.90 for 18 to 21-year-olds, compared to £15.83 for all employees. This is partly because the National Living Wage (currently £10.42 per hour) does not kick in until an employee is 23.

The UK Government has accepted the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations to increase the National Living Wage to £11.44 from April 2024, expand it to 21 and 22-year-olds, lift the rate to £8.60 for 18 to 20-year-olds, and to £6.40 for 16 to 17-year-olds and apprentices.

These changes follow pressure from unions and campaigners. The TUC says that this is a positive step – but that the top rate must be made available to all working people, regardless of age.

Even with these current announcements a 20-year-old doing the same minimum wage job as a 23-year-old will still be earning £2.93 per hour (28%) less.

Black and ethnic minority workers are also particularly hard hit, as they’re disproportionately more likely to be on a zero hour contract than white workers.


Wales TUC General Secretary Shavanah Taj said: “Too many young workers are trapped in insecure work, on lower pay and without the workplace rights most of us take for granted. That’s not right.

“Banning zero-hours contracts, giving all workers day one rights in a job and removing age bands from the minimum wage would be life changing for younger workers.

“It would give them a secure contract – so they knew how many hours they’d work each week. It would stop fire at will – making sure every worker is protected from unfair sacking from day one in the job.

It would make sure they were entitled to maternity and paternity pay when they have kids. And it would give them a chance to work for a decent future.”

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Linda Jones
Linda Jones
5 months ago

Successive government have torn up the rule book on worker rights, particularly the recent tory regimes. Zero hour contracts run right through the system with the young particularly hard hit. It gives employers so much control over the individual as they may not know until the morning whether your working that day or not. How can you organise your life or budget with that system in place. As with all low paid jobs, employers then rely on the benefit system to top up wages so people can live. The Benefit system thereby contributes to company profits as most working age… Read more »

5 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Zero hours contacts are a gross injustice unless a person finds it in some way convenient for a short term ( I can’t imagine that ever being a preferred option). Your poing about subsidising big business is most relevant as this is just part of the bigger picture where money is sucked out of public funds into private coffers. The rich, be they individuals or corporates, are doing well out of this scam.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
5 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Too true

5 months ago

Ban it and give people proper job security and a decent pay with benefits.

5 months ago

Perhaps we should have mandatory signs like Food Hygine stickers showing the percentage of zero hours workers a business uses?

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
5 months ago

Unfortunately, thanks in part to the right wing media and lies from some that should have known better, the country (uk) rejected the chance to make this a better country for all – on two occasions – and I doubt there would be another chance in my lifetime.

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