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Workers on zero-hours contracts twice as likely to die of COVID

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Suban Abdulla
·2 min read
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Young woman delivering groceries to her elderly grandmother
Insecure jobs were defined as work with a higher proportion of staff employed on contracts that did not guarantee regular hours or income, or low-paid self-employment, including agency workers. Photo: Getty

COVID-19 mortality rates are twice as high for people working on zero-hour contracts as in other professions, new research shows. 

Key workers such as nurses, care workers and delivery staff on zero-hour contracts or in casual work "were at a higher risk of death," according to a report from the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The TUC said the COVID male mortality rate in insecure occupations was 51 per 100,000 for those aged 20-64, compared with 24 per 100,000 in more secure jobs. 

The female mortality rate in insecure work was 25 per 100,000 people, compared with 13 per 100,000 for those in more secure occupations.

Those without contracts that guarantee regular hours or income face a "triple whammy of endemic low pay, few workplace rights and low or no sick pay," the report said.

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The analysis found 67% of insecure employees receive no benefits when unable to work due to sickness, compared with just 7% of secure workers.

People in insecure jobs were forced to choose between protecting their lives and putting food on the table, the union body said. 

The union called the figures "stark" and said more research is needed to understand the links between precarious work and risk of infection and death.

There is a correlation between insecure occupations and higher COVID death rates. Graph: TUC
There is a correlation between insecure occupations and higher COVID death rates. Graph: TUC

"No matter your race or background, everyone deserves fair pay and to be treated with dignity and respect, but during the pandemic we’ve seen higher infections and death rates in insecure jobs," TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said.

Insecure jobs were defined as work with a higher proportion of staff employed on contracts that did not guarantee regular hours or income. Low-paid self-employment, including agency work, was also included.

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Industries such as leisure, care, labouring, factory and warehouse work have the highest rates of insecure employment. Managerial, professional and administrative roles have some of the lowest rates of insecure employment.

The TUC said the COVID crisis should be a turning point so that everyone could enjoy "dignity" in employment.

The union urged the government to raise statutory sick pay in line with the real living wage and called on officials to set the voluntary minimum pay rate at £9.50 ($13) an hour and £10.85 in London.

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