In a recent high profile speech at the IBEC President’s Dinner, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the government’s intention to prioritise publication of legislation prohibiting zero hour contracts. He said that this new law, which will be introduced during the next Dáil term, “will legislate to help employees whose contracts do not reflect the reality of the hours they work”.
‘Zero hour’ contracts do not provide for specific hours of work, but provide that the employee be available for work for a specified period each week if required. Such contracts primarily affect lower-paid employees. Their use is most prevalent in the retail, service and hospitality sectors. Lesser affected sectors include the education and health sectors. However, it is common for care workers to be employed on zero hour or ‘if and when’ contracts. Irish universities have also been known to use zero hour contracts for staff, including part-time lecturers.
IBEC have expressed concerns over the proposed prohibition of zero hour contracts, stating that such legislation would be disproportionate and would lead to significant cost and create additional administrative work for smaller employers in particular. IBEC are of the view that a regulatory impact assessment should be conducted before any such legislation is introduced.
However, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has welcomed the proposed legislation as a positive development.
The proposed bill may not be an easy one to draft and its passage into law may not be speedy but the government says that it will outlaw ‘most’ zero hour contracts. It seems it will also deal with other vulnerable employee categories, such as low hour contracts and ‘banded’ hours.
This issue has been a slow burner generally for a number of years. We will track developments in this area and report again in due course.
Authors: Katie Keogh and Barry Walsh