The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has said that the report of the expert group on low hours work “confirms what Congress and affiliated unions have been saying for some years on this issue.”
The study, which was commissioned by the Government and produced by the University of Limerick (UL), looks at the prevalence of ‘zero hour’ contracts in Ireland.
‘If and when’ working arrangements
The UL study has found the use of zero-hours contracts in Ireland is limited, but has identified the emergence of a type of employment called ‘if and when’ employment contracts.
Under existing legislation, workers must receive pay for at least 15 hours, or 25 per cent of the hours for which they have to make themselves available to an employer. The legislation was intended to create a floor in the labour market for workers who are contractually required to make themselves available, as they are with zero-hour contracts.
Workers with ‘if-and-when’ arrangements do not have a contractual requirement to make themselves available. In such cases, an employee works if available and an employer offers work if the company has it to offer. There is no legal obligation either to provide work or to perform work.
Congress General Secretary Patricia King said: “We have consistently lobbied successive governments to have current legislation amended, in order to provide enhanced protection for workers on low-hour contracts, the majority of whom are low paid, female and whose voice is not often heard. The recent strike and ongoing dispute involving Dunnes Stores workers graphically illustrated these issues and some of these workers suffered considerably for the brave stand they took.”
Patricia said that the newly-published report, whilst noting the lack of evidence on zero-hour contracts, “does point very effectively to the large scale and regressive employer behaviour in certain sectors, including retail/distribution, hospitality, and in some education and healthcare grades.”
The study includes a range of recommendations aimed at retaining flexibility and improving the predictability of hours. These include employees receiving a contract of employment on the first day of a new job, giving 72 hours’ notice of requests for work or cancellation of work and ensuring a minimum of three hours continuous working.
Patricia said that the introduction of an ‘hours floor’, together with a deterrent in case of misuse of the 72 hours’ notice period are positive recommendations.
“Congress believes the recommendation to review the practice of ‘if and when’ should be prioritised. This is the worst form of casualisation and can lead to the gross exploitation of workers. We now urge the government to immediately make the necessary legislative arrangements to address the very serious issues raised in this report,” she said.
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