A proposed crackdown on zero-hours contracts in a review carried out for prime minister Theresa May is virtually worthless, the TUC has warned.

Commenting on reports that the Taylor Review is set to recommend a right for zero-hours workers to “request” guaranteed hours (Risks 801), TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“This could mean close to zero action on zero-hours contracts. A ‘right to request’ guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. To make a real change, we should turn this policy on its head.

“Everyone should be entitled to guaranteed hours, with a genuine choice for workers to opt-out, free from pressure from their boss. And anyone asked to work outside their contracted hours should be paid extra on top of their usual wage.”

She added: “All parties should be upfront about what is on offer to working people trapped in insecure work this election – and stop hiding behind a review that will report after voting is over.”

The TUC is concerned that there will be no real barrier to employers denying a request. It also believes many workers will be reluctant to ask for fixed hours for fear of being victimised, for example by not being offered further work.

Around 900,000 people are on zero-hours contracts – up from 143,000 in 2008 – which have been criticised for leaving many in insecure work, depressing wages and denying full employee rights. It has been widely reported that the Taylor Review is set to recommend the “right to request” in a government commissioned independent review to be delivered in the summer.

Unions warn that there are higher rates of work-related injuries and ill-health for insecure workers, who are less able to raise or challenge health and safety concerns and who may face greater pressure to work when sick.