New law aimed at curbing zero-hours contracts comes into effect

Employment protection legislation to provide support for workers in precarious situations

Carlos Alberto Fraeds (left) and Williams Santos, both from Brazil, join Communities Against Low Pay and activists at a rally in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Carlos Alberto Fraeds (left) and Williams Santos, both from Brazil, join Communities Against Low Pay and activists at a rally in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

New employment protection legislation aimed at providing greater support to those who have casual or precarious working arrangements will come into effect on Monday.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty said the new “groundbreaking” Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act was one of the most significant pieces of legislation in this area in a generation.

The legislation will restrict the use of zero hours contracts and compel employers to give employees details of their core terms of employment within five days of starting work.

This statement must include information on “the number of hours which the employer reasonably expects the employee to work” both per day and per week.

Employees who don’t have a contract detailing weekly hours can request to work within a “band” of hours corresponding to the average number of hours they worked in the previous year.

Under the “band of hours” system, an employee who was working an average of four hours a week, for example, must get between three and six hours a week. An employee working nine hours a week must get between six and 11 hours, an employee working 13 hours a week must get between 11 and 16 hours, and so on.

Workers will also have the right to compensation from their employer if they turn up for work but are sent home without work.

Ms Doherty said there are “strong anti-penalisation provisions for employees who invoke their rights under this legislation”.

In addition, the the national minimum wage rates for younger people and trainees had been simplified.

While under-18s can be paid an hourly rate of €6.86, the use of trainee rates has been abolished, and a person who commences employment for the first time at age 20 or over must receive the full national minimum wage rate of €9.80.

The Department of Employment Affairs said that zero hours contracts were prohibited already in most circumstances under the Organisation of Working Time Act which was introduced in 1997.

‘Flexibility is required’

It added the use of zero hours contracts was not extensive in Ireland.

“However we want to ensure that remains the position.”

Such contracts would be banned in most cases “except where they are essential to allow employers to provide cover in emergency situations, to cover short-term routine absences for the employer or if the work is genuinely casual”, the department said.

“This flexibility is required, in particular, in residential care settings, [for example] where a member of staff must accompany a resident in the care facility to hospital at short notice and an appropriate substitute worker can be called in to cover, and in the education sector, [for example] where a school maintains a panel of substitute teachers to be available to cover absences where a regular member of the teaching staff is out on sick leave.”

The Minister said the new legislation would be a “game changer for thousands of employees across the country”.

“From today, this new law will profoundly improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts. This law is rooted in a foundation of extensive consultation and, as a result, this is a balanced and fair measure for both employees and employers which is designed to work effectively in practice.”

Ictu general secretary Patricia King, whose union campaigned for the reforms, said“rogue bosses” had been taking advantage of zero-hour and low-hours contracts “to keep workers in line and to punish workers for being unavailable. It is stressful, humiliating and makes it next to impossible for workers to plan ahead or to budget for their household expenses. The day-to-day reality of such working conditions for workers has no place in a modern, wealthy economy. This new law rightly puts an end this power imbalance.”

On Saturday workers with the courier company Deliveroo staged a protest in Dublin supported by campaign group Communities Against Low Pay. The group said “all workers need to join a trade union to protect themselves from exploitation, to secure their rights and proper working conditions”.

A number of Deliveroo cyclists have complained about precarious terms of employment, including new contracts which mean they get a lower payment for each delivery, as well as a lack of protection following spate of assaults in the city.