Minister says zero-hour contracts to be all but prohibited

‘Precarious contracts’ give employers ‘power to control and manipulate their workforce’

 Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty: the Bill will “genuinely help those employed in precarious situations”.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty: the Bill will “genuinely help those employed in precarious situations”. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Zero-hour contracts are to be prohibited “except in specific limited circumstances” under legislation introduced by Minister for Employment Affairs Regina Doherty.

The Minister told the Dáil that the Bill aimed to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts and those working variable hours and it would help protect employees from being exploited by “if and when” contracts.

But Sinn Féin employment affairs spokesman John Brady said the Bill did not ban zero-hour contracts in their entirety and “therefore it does not ban them at all”.

He said under the Bill an employee would have to wait almost two years for a basic contract, to be placed on a weekly band and the weekly bands of hours created by the Minister were “ludicrous”.

The Minister said, however, that “this Bill will apply to all employers across all sectors of the economy. It is important, therefore, that we strike a fair balance between the respective rights and obligations of employees and employers.”

The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill strengthens the provisions around minimum payments to low-paid, vulnerable employees who may be called in to work for a period but not provided with that work.

It prohibits zero-hour contracts, except in specific limited circumstances and aims to ensure that employees on low-hour contracts who consistently work more hours each week than provided for in their contracts, are entitled to be placed in a band of hours that reflects the reality of their working hours.

‘Precarious situations’

The Minister said the Bill would “genuinely help those employed in precarious situations”.

Fianna Fáil employment affairs spokesman Willie O’Dea said the Bill would have to be significantly amended because they did not want to open up “an opportunity to exploit employees in a very unfair and unjust way. We have an obligation to legislate as well as we possibly can to prevent that happening.”

Mr O’Dea expressed disappointment that the Government only proposed four bands for working hours and they were very wide.

He welcomed the introduction of the one hour to 10 hour band, but said “precarious contracts give unscrupulous employers immense power to control and manipulate their workforce”.

He said if somebody was working 11-24 hours, but “proving troublesome or is acting in such a way that the employer would prefer if he or she is not around”, the employer could move them gradually towards the bottom end of that 11-24-hour band which if they had been at the top, “would result in a tremendous penalisation. More than half a person’s income can disappear.”

Mr Brady, referring to the banded hours, said rather than looking at bands that worked, such as those in place in Penneys and Tesco, the Minister had created her own which were ludicrous.

He said the first weekly bank was “one to ten hours. One hour is not a band. The very minimum should be three hours. Under this Bill people in a weekly band of 11-24 hours may only be given 11 hours of work in any given week. There is a huge difference between 11 hours per week and 24 hours per week.”

Casual work

Independents4Change TD Clare Daly said that 22 per cent of workers were on casual work and were underemployed. She pointed out that Ireland had the second-highest rate of underemployment in the EU.

She said the State had to give a huge supplement in the form of payments such as the family income supplement to the employees of “hugely profitable companies”. Companies like Supervalu and Marks and Spencer had negotiated banded-hour contracts with employees, she said. “It can and should be done.”

Ms Daly also condemned the Government for “refusing to accept” the recommendations of the report it commissioned and paid for from the University of Limerick. And she criticised the Bill for being “Ibec-approved” and “therefore watered-down”.

She added that 85 per cent of workers surveyed had said that the allocation of hours was used as a “control mechanism by management”.