Last Christmas for zero-hour contracts as time runs out

Cantillon: Practice to be banned in spring, but some sectors won’t be too happy about it

Employers will now have to give all staff a written contract within five days of starting work, outlining their main terms of work including their daily and weekly hours. Photograph: Getty Images

Employers will now have to give all staff a written contract within five days of starting work, outlining their main terms of work including their daily and weekly hours. Photograph: Getty Images

 

This year’s Christmas shopping season will be the last for zero-hour employment contracts, which became prevalent in the retail industry over the years.

The legislation to enable the banning of the contracts, where workers have no set hours guaranteed, passed its final stage in the Dáil on Wednesday. It clears the way for a prohibition to be enacted sometime in early spring.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions lobbied hard for the new laws. Employers will now have to give all staff a written contract within five days of starting work, outlining their main terms of work including their daily and weekly hours.

Once the powers enabled by the legislation are brought into force – by March, ministers say – zero-hour contracts will only be permitted in a handful of circumstances, such as emergency situations and short-term cover. “Genuine casual employment” will also be allowed.

Zero-hour contracts were most notoriously associated with the retail industry

Some workers who previously toiled under flimsy agreements, where they habitually worked more than the level outlined in their contracts, will now also be entitled to “banded hours” contracts, more accurately reflecting the range of hours they are genuinely expected to work.

Also, under the new laws, if casual employees are called in to work only to find things are quiet and they are sent home, they will now be guaranteed at least three hours’ pay for their trouble.

Zero-hour contracts were most notoriously associated with the retail industry. But they are also common among many agricultural workers and in the media industry, where non-staff journalists often flit from week to week without knowing how much work and pay they will get.

Ironically, however, the restriction of employers’ options under the new laws couldn’t come at a worse time for these particular industries.

Traditional retailing is under huge threat from the shift to online shopping; Ireland’s agriculture and food sectors are hugely exposed to a hard Brexit; and the media industry is on its knees across the globe, again due to the threat from online giants.

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