The Government is to ban zero-hour contracts in the majority of cases with the introduction of new employment legislation, which also aims to strengthen workers’ rights for those on insecure contracts and variable hour work arrangements.
The Minister for Employment and Social Protection Regina Doherty stated that the new legislation would significantly improve the employment protections afforded to people in less secure employment arrangements who may not know their working hours from week to week.
The Minister emphasised that the majority of employers would have nothing to fear from the new Bill, stating that the vast majority of employees are treated well by their employers.
She said, “On the contrary, the Bill is aimed at tackling exploitative employment arrangements and those unscrupulous employers who do not respect even the most basic rights of employees.”
The legislation has been praised by trade unions and employees’ rights advocacy groups. The general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Patricia King said that it represented progress in the protection of workers’ rights, whilst also noting that the legislation was not perfect and that future amendments would be required.
“The ICTU will lobby hard to achieve amendments to this Bill to meet the demands of the workers who are affected by insecure and precarious work. It appears from the provisions of the Bill that the prohibition of zero-hour contracts excludes casual workers. It is our view that all workers should be covered by this prohibition.”
However, the legislation has not received universal welcome. The employers’ group IBEC argued that the legislation in its current form would have significant adverse consequences on the relationship between employers and their employees, stating that “It will deprive employees and employers of the ability to make their own flexible working arrangements and to adapt to change collaboratively.”
Further issues surrounding the Bill were raised in regard to its omission of “if and when” contracts from its scope, with Labour Party senator Ged Nash condemning the fact that the Bill was silent on this “new and dubious form of precarious work”. Senator Nash further said that the Bill would apply only to employees who had worked under contract for at least 18 months.
“This is of itself a major improvement to the status quo and is a very welcome development”, Senator Nash said, “But the new legislation entirely dodges the question of ‘if and when’ contracts and how such workers are to be treated. It seems that, for most workers trapped in the ‘if and when’ spiral, work of that nature will continue to be treated as a casual form of work.”
The new legislation will prohibit zero-hour contracts in all circumstances, with exception given to “cases of genuine casual work or where they are essential to allow employers to provide cover in emergency situations or to cover short-term absences”.
The Department of Employment and Social Protection emphasised that these exceptions would be necessary in residential care settings, for example, where staff members must accompany residents in the care facility to hospital at short notice and an appropriately qualified substitute worker would be needed to cover the absence.
Minister Doherty said: “While we understand that zero-hour contracts are not prevalent in this jurisdiction, we want to ensure that that remains the position.”
Under the new legislation, employers will be required to provide their workers with the details of five key terms of their employment within five days of their commencing work for the employer.
These terms are; the full name of the employer and employee, the address of the employer, the expected duration of the contract (where the contract is temporary or fixed-term), the rate or method of calculating pay, and what the employer reasonably expects the normal length of the employee’s working day and week will be.
Moran and Ryan are highly experienced in all aspects of employment law. If you are unsure about any of these issues or how they relate to your employment relationship, do not hesitate to contact our office to arrange a consultation.