Zero-hours contracts may soon become a thing of the past. Limerick’s Fianna Fáil TDs are leading a campaign to abolish the practice, which affects thousands of people nationwide. Willie O’Dea, who is Fianna Fáil’s Spokesperson on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, has been keen to stress his campaign against zero-hours contracts. He’s joined by party colleague Niall Collins, the County Limerick TD, whose brief included employment until recently.
Most people have heard of zero-hours contracts and many Limerick businesses employ people on this basis, but the exact nature of these arrangements can be confusing. They have proved controversial across Europe, though they are increasingly common.
“A zero-hours contract of employment is a type of employment contract where the employee is available for work but does not have specified hours of work,” according to the Citizens’ Information office.
According reports in the Irish Times and Irish Mirror from November this year, Dunnes Stores was one of many employers with workers on zero-hours contracts.
The Government is introducing new legislation to curb the practice. The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 will effectively restrict the use of zero-hours contracts. The move is controversial, with the employers’ group IBEC arguing the proposals go too far.
“The bill as drafted will have significant adverse consequences,” said Maeve McElwee, Director of Employer Relations at IBEC, the employers’ organization. “It will deprive employees and employers of the ability to make their own flexible working arrangements and to adapt to change collaboratively.”
“It will likely act as a deterrent to varying employees’ hours, even at their request,” McElwee said. “[It will] present challenges in health and social care, where it can be difficult to reasonably know the work requirement within the short timeframes proposed for providing core term
“The Bill goes far beyond its intended purpose of protecting workers with low pay/low hour contracts. In addition, there remains an overreliance on criminal prosecution as a means of enforcement in the bill,” she said.
“This is of considerable concern for employers who are generating employment yet are potentially at risk of attracting custodial sentences for even relatively minor breaches of employment law.”
SIPTU, the union that represents more than 180,000 workers in Ireland, takes the opposite view. SIPTU argues that the new bill is a step in the right direction, though it doesn’t go far enough.
“While there are positive aspects to these proposals more must be done to protect workers against the rapid expansion in precarious work practices,” said Ethel Buckley, SIPTU Services Division Organiser. “SIPTU is focused on this issue because it affects a growing number of workers.”
“As part of our ‘Fighting for the Future of Work’ campaign our members are calling for a remedial social statute which will put right the social wrong of precarious work and provide workers with an entitlement to security of hours.”
“The legislation that is ultimately enacted needs to be effective in significantly ameliorating the negative effect on workers and their families of zero hours contracts and if-and-when contracts. We must ensure the final legislation does provide vulnerable workers with a right to security in their working lives,” Buckley said.
O’Dea and his Fianna Fáil colleagues are pressing on with efforts to ban zero-hours contracts and with the recent announcement from Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty that the Government will implement the new employment act, it seems like they will soon be a thing of the past.
“This bill needs to be passed as quickly as possible to improve workers’ rights and protections.” O’Dea said. “I am calling on all political parties to debate this bill with this requirement in mind, and to work constructively towards its passage.”