IMPACT’s submission to the Government, on the independent study into zero and low-hour contracts, has highlighted the difficulties faced by workers in the social care and early years education sectors.
The government-commissioned report by the University of Limerick (A Study on the Prevalence of Zero Hours Contracts) was published last November. The report found that the use of zero-hours contracts in Ireland is limited, but identified the emergence of a type of employment called ‘if and when’ employment contracts. The Minister for Business and Employment, Ged Nash TD, invited submissions from interested parties on the study. The submission deadline closed yesterday (Monday 4th January).
In its submission IMPACT highlighted the experiences of IMPACT members working in health, social work and community work sectors, which the union said backed up some of the key findings in the study.
There are more than 25,000 workers, mostly women, providing early child care in Ireland, with approximately 5,000 service providers. IMPACT organiser Lisa Connell said the drastic lack of funding into the sector has resulted in low rates of pay, no standardisation in terms and conditions and grave insecurity for those providing invaluable services to the working population.
“It is a sector that has expanded rapidly over the past few years. A core reason in this expansion is due to the huge increases in demand for crèche services due to the changing patterns in the workforce over the past twenty years. While there is huge demand for further investment, this sector remains largely overlooked and is suffering from a lack of investment, with Ireland only paying 0.2% of GDP in the Early Childcare Sector in comparison to a European average of 0.7%.”
Ms Connell said that, as a result of the lack of investment, the sector has an over-reliance on seasonal and temporary contracts. He outlined how providers that offer seasonal services are unable to cover staff costs for the three months they are not in operation due to lack of funding, so staff are employed on a nine-month basis and have to rely on social welfare for the remaining three months of the year.
Social Care and Community services
The submission also highlights some of the issues experienced by IMPACT members working in the social care sector, such as when a client or service user may have to be admitted to hospital; “The contract hours have to be honoured but the ‘if and when’ hours do not. This can lead to a very sudden reduction in hours, for example from 30 hours a week to the contracted hours of 10 hours per week.”
The submission also highlights the experience of workers in the community and voluntary sector, where reduced working hours and other restrictions have been imposed in response to funding cuts since 2009. This is summarised in greater detail in the UL report ‘Caring- At What Cost?: Rebuilding and refinancing the community and voluntary sector’ commissioned by IMPACT in 2015.
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.
The study included 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.
The general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Patricia King, has said that the introduction of an ‘hours floor’, together with a deterrent in case of misuse of the 72 hours’ notice period were positive recommendations, and urged the government to introduce legislation to address the issues raised in the report.
IMPACT organiser Joe O’Connor added “We believe that greater regulation and enforcement both of the current legislative provisions on zero hour contracts, and proposed legislative changes to address ‘if and when’ contracts is necessary. This should include empowering the Low Pay Commission to establish a regulatory framework for issues pertaining to zero hour contracts, low hour contracts, ‘if and when’ contracts, as well as unpaid internships.”
The Minister has indicated his intentions to bring proposals to Cabinet to address the findings and recommendations of the study.
A copy of IMPACT’s submission is available to download HERE.