University of Limerick appointed to investigate zero-hour contracts

Government appoints team of academics to study controversial hiring practice

The study will help  determine  the impact the contracts  are having on working people, says Minister of State for business and employment Ged Nash

The study will help determine the impact the contracts are having on working people, says Minister of State for business and employment Ged Nash


Employers’ use of zero-hour and low-hour contracts is to be investigated in a study by academics at the University of Limerick.

The Government has appointed a team from UL’s Kemmy School of Business to examine the prevalence and impact of the contracts, which have been criticised for being unfair to workers.

The study authors will meet and speak to employers, workers and their representatives in areas of the economy associated with zero-hour and low-hour contracts.

Under zero-hour employment contracts, employees must typically be available for work, but they do not have specified or guaranteed hours of work.

This restricts workers’ freedom to earn the equivalent of a full-time income through multiple employers, without the benefit of any security of income in return.

The contracts are usually found in sectors such as retail, hospitality, health and education, according to the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, although it also said there was a lack of data on the practice.

“Work must pay,” said Ged Nash, the Minister of State for Business and Employment.

“This study will help Government in the first instance to determine how widespread zero and low-hour contracts are, but crucially the impact they are having on working people.”

The study will also examine if existing employment legislation, including the Organisation of Working Time Act, is being correctly applied by employers and if it provides sufficient protection.

The academics from the Kemmy School’s Department of Personnel and Employment Relations will report back to Mr Nash within six months with their findings.

The study authors, led by Professor Patrick Gunnigle and Dr Michelle O’Sullivan, will make recommendations for policy changes, should they find them to be warranted.

“The Statement of Priorities agreed by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste last July included a commitment to carry out a study into zero-hours contracts,” Mr Nash said. This has now been extended to the examination of low-hour contracts of eight hours per week or less.

“This is very much in keeping with my dignity of work agenda,” he added, citing a need to ensure that the jobs being created in the economic recovery are “decent jobs with decent pay”.

The awarding of the contract to carry out the study follows a competitive tender. It will cover all areas of the economy across the public and private sectors, with a particular emphasis on retail, hospitality, health and education.

“If this study finds such work contracts have a serious and detrimental impact on our citizens, then the Government will act,” Mr Nash promised.