Government to ban zero-hour contracts in most cases

Minister says Government will strengthen rights for workers on insecure contracts

The Minister for Employment and Social Protection Regina Doherty said the new legislation would significantly improve the employment protections for people  in less secure arrangements. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

The Minister for Employment and Social Protection Regina Doherty said the new legislation would significantly improve the employment protections for people in less secure arrangements. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

The Government is to ban zero-hours contracts in most circumstances and strengthen rights for workers on insecure contracts and those working variable hours.

The Minister for Employment and Social Protection Regina Doherty said the new legislation,published on Thursday, would significantly improve the employment protections for people who were in less secure arrangements, not by choice, and may not know from week to week what hours they will be working.

She said the vast majority of employers treated their employees well and they should have nothing to fear from the new Bill.

“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 general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) Patricia King said the new legislation was by no means perfect and required some amendments but it did represent progress.

“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.”

‘If and when’

However the employers’ group Ibec argued the legislation as drafted would have significant adverse consequences.

“It will deprive employees and employers of the ability to make their own flexible working arrangements and to adapt to change collaboratively.”

Labour Party senator Ged Nash said the Bill was silent on “a new and dubious form of precarious work” known as “if and when” contracts.

He said the Bill would apply only to employees who had worked under contract for at least 18 months.

“This of itself is a major improvement to the status quo and is a very welcome development. 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 hours contracts in all circumstances except in “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”.

Substitute workers

The Department of Employment and Social Protection said such flexibility would be required 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 appropriately qualified substitute worker needed to be called in to cover the absence.

Ms 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 five key terms of employment must be provided to workers within five days of commencing work for their employer. These 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

– What the employer reasonably expects the normal length of the employee’s working day and week will be.