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1.4 million employee contracts in the UK do not guarantee a minimum number of hours of work, according to data released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This figure is nearly three times higher than a previous estimate made last year as part of the ONS Labour Force Survey.

The survey found that people on these ‘zero-hours contracts’ are more likely to be women, in full-time education, young (aged 16-24) or older (aged 65 and over).

In terms of industry, more than one in five health and social work employees are employed on these contracts, but they are rare in the financial services sector.

Around 14% of people on zero-hours contracts are looking for another job, which is more than those on regular contracts. However, the results indicate that most people on zero-hours contracts are currently content to stay with their job.

Last week, Labour leader Ed Miliband announced that he would look to eliminate zero-hours contracts, saying that they were ‘abusive’ and an ‘epidemic’.

Mr Miliband said that the contracts can offer short-term flexibility for employers and employees but that most employers don’t use them because they are “incompatible with building a loyal, skilled and productive workforce.”

“It has left too many people not knowing how they will make ends meet from one week to the next, and unable to plan for the future,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said zero-hours contracts could offer “welcome flexibility” and the government would not “ban them outright”.

Photo by Nick Sarebi