ESRI rejects claim tens of thousands on zero-hour contracts

Researcher says incidence here is likely to be significantly lower than in UK

Barista  making a coffee. Photograph: iStock

Barista making a coffee. Photograph: iStock

 

There is no evidence that tens of thousands of workers in Ireland are on so-called “zero-hour” contracts as trade unions are claiming, a senior researcher with the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has said.

Prof Seamus McGuinness said that, while there are no hard numbers on the incidence or otherwise of zero-hour contracts, it is highly unlikely that Ireland had anything like the numbers in the UK, where the labour market is more deregulated and the activation measures for those in receipt of unemployment benefit more severe.

He was responding to comments by the general secretary of trade union Mandate, who suggested that tens of thousands of workers, across dozens of sectors, were signed to these “exploitative” contracts.

Speaking at the launch of Mandate’s campaign to end “zero-hour” and “if and when” contracts of employment, John Douglas said Government proposals as currently framed contained too many loopholes.

He said that tens of thousands of workers did not know from week to week what hours they will be working and this could result in major fluctuations in their income.

A 2015 study, published by the University of Limerick and using Central Statistics Office (CSO) data, showed that 5.3 per cent of workers in Ireland – around half of whom were part-time – have hours of work that vary on a weekly basis. However, the study provided no evidence of the exact contractual nature of employment – or the degree of variability in hours .

“As is suggested by the authors of the Limerick study, much better data is required if we are to get a complete picture of both the incidence and impacts of ‘if and when’ contractual arrangements in Ireland,” Prof McGuinness said.

He said one possible way of assessing the incidence of zero-hour contracts in Ireland was for the CSO to include a question on them in its quarterly national household survey, which provides the most accurate data on the labour market here.

CSO statistician Brian Ring said, however, that the phrase “zero-hour contracts” covered a number of practices including precarious work, casualisation, changing or irregular hours and low-hour contracts.

“Although these situations can occur with individuals on higher pay, the term is being more frequently used to describe lower-paid workers who feel restrained by the demands of being constantly available and flexible to attend to their work,” he said.

No definition

In the CSO’s main labour market survey, he said zero-hour contracts were not directly measured because no single definition exists.

The number of people on zero-hour contracts in the UK hit a record high of 910,000 earlier this year, equating to just less than 3 per cent of the total workforce.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has vowed to outlaw zero-hour contracts and prioritise the legislation to do so during this Dáil term.

However, employers group Ibec said the Government’s proposed draft bill on zero-hours contracts was crude and disproportionate.