A FEW years ago, the existence of zero-hours contracts was largely unknown:

now the practice of offering jobs which fail to guarantee minimum hours has rightly come under much scrutiny. While the employer reaps the benefit of flexibility and lower costs, workers are left without job security and vital benefits such as sick pay.

Yet the numbers of workers on zero-hours contracts has only recently begun to be assessed. New figures taking into account information from employers for the first time have revealed the extent of their use, with an estimate of around 120,000 in Scotland. Union leaders believe the numbers have doubled in the past decade.

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The evidence suggests much of the growth in zero-hours contracts has involved low-paid, low-skilled workers who would previously have been in more secure work. With jobseekers now facing the threat of losing benefits if they turn down a zero-hours contract, it is feared these numbers will rise.

The UK Government's consultation on the issue does not go far enough. Too many workers are already paying far too high a price in return for the benefits zero-hours contracts offer employers.

The danger is that society will suffer if this is allowed to develop into a long-term trend - and will affect not just those in low-paid jobs.

The issue of better employment rights must be addressed now, not only to help those who are already stuck in the zero-hours trap, but also to prevent this most precarious form of employment becoming an accepted norm in the future.