BLACK and minority ethnic (BME) women are now nearly three times as likely to be on zero-hours contracts as white men (6.8 per cent compared to 2.5 per cent), according to new analysis published by the TUC.

The analysis shows that BME workers are significantly overrepresented on zero-hours contracts – characterised by low pay, variable hours and fewer rights and protections for workers – compared to white workers (5.7 per cent compared to 3.2 per cent).

BME women are the most disproportionately affected group, followed by BME men (6.8 per cent of BME women in work are on these contracts along with 4.8 per cent of BME men). White women are also significantly more likely than white men to be on zero-hours contracts (4.0 per cent compared to 2.5 per cent).

Increase in zero-hours contracts

The new TUC analysis also reveals that the number of people on zero-hours contracts rose by nearly 150,000 over the last 12 months. There are now 1.18 million people on these contracts. The biggest proportional increase has been among BME women. The TUC says this increase in zero-hours contracts for BME workers reflects “structural racism in the jobs market”.

TUC analysis published in August revealed the number of BME workers in insecure work more than doubled from 2011 to 2022 (from 360,200 to 836,300).

Lack of control

The TUC says zero-hours contracts hand the employer total control over workers’ hours and earning power, meaning workers never know how much they will earn each week, and their income is subject to the whims of managers.

The union body argues that this makes it hard for workers to plan their lives, look after their children and get to medical appointments. And it makes it harder for workers to challenge unacceptable behaviour by bosses because of concerns about whether they will be penalised by not being allocated hours in future. Such insecurity can be particularly challenging for those who have caring responsibilities, who are overwhelmingly women, says the TUC.

Low pay

The TUC is also concerned that the surge in BME women on zero-hours contracts is leaving these workers trapped in poverty on low-paid jobs.

One in three (31 per cent) of the 155,000 BME women on zero-hours contracts work in health and social work. Within this industry, we know that it is BME women working in residential care activities who are most likely to be employed on zero-hours contracts. The median hourly pay for the sector is £12.01 in 2023.

A recent TUC report found that social care is facing a staffing crisis stemming from endemic low pay and insecure work, which hits their predominantly female workforces hard. The union body says this is having a huge negative impact on children and adults receiving social care and is placing huge strain on the NHS.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “Everyone deserves to be treated fairly at work. But too many Black and minority ethnic workers – especially women – are trapped in low-paid jobs on zero-hours contracts, with limited rights and protections and no guarantee of shifts so they can’t plan their budgets and childcare from one week to the next.

“The significant and disproportionate concentration of BME workers on zero-hours contracts points firmly to the structural racism in our jobs market. It’s time to tackle the discrimination that holds BME workers back once and for all – and ensure that everyone has access, to a decent, secure job.

“Labour’s New Deal for Working People would help to do this – marking a new chapter for workers’ rights in this country. It would ban zero hours contracts, deliver fair pay agreements to boost pay and standards in social care, and introduce a duty on employers to report their ethnicity pay gap – all changes that would have a big impact on BME workers. And this boost to rights at work would be delivered in the first 100 days of a new government in an employment bill.”

* Source: Trades Union Congress