“You can’t live your life on a zero hours contract” – IMPACT conference

Helen Cousins, Galway branch
Helen Cousins, Galway branch

Delegates at IMPACT trade union’s Health and Welfare division conference have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion to seek the end of zero hours contracts in the voluntary/not for profit sectors.

Helen Cousins of IMPACT’s Galway branch proposed the motion, which she said is a growing feature in the social care sector, in addition to the hospitality and retail sectors.

She told delegates, “I’ve had the great pleasure of working with a lovely woman over the last five years and together we provide services for people who are homeless and experiencing domestic violence.

“In those five years she has had to work a very sporadic pattern of shifts. She can go from having six work shifts in a week, then two weeks with no work, and then maybe two weeks where she only works one shift each week.

“It’s zero hours guaranteed. She’s 32 years old, a hard worker, and shows real dedication for the work that we do. But five years on, as she says herself, she’s exactly where she started five years ago. Paying bills is hard enough when you work like that, but trying to get a loan, a mortgage or just planning your life becomes impossible” she said.

Ms Cousins also described her son’s experience “He’s 22, and like many people his age he’s living at home and working in a job where 15 hours a week are supposed to be guaranteed but he might only get six hours. You can’t pay rent or bills if that’s your experience, you can’t live your life like that.

“And the flip side of that experience is that highly profitable companies have staff who are trying to survive on the Family Income Supplement. Trade unions need to stop this pattern from developing any further” she said.

Ms Cousins said the union had successfully ‘struck a blow’ against zero hours contracts in a case involving a zero hours arrangement, securing 18 hours a week work for a worker in the disability sector. “Delegates, we need to keep striking blows against zero hours contracts until the trend is wiped out” she said.

Underemployed

IMPACT national secretary Louise O’Donnell said figures supplied by the CSO suggested that a large number of zero-hour contracts are accounted for by what the CSO describes as “underemployed”.

“The EU average for that category is 4.4%, while the Irish figure is much higher at 7.4%. This suggests that the use of zero-hours contract is now a growing problem in the private sector. It’s also encroaching on the public sector as these contracts are now a feature in childcare and disability services. The uncertainty that comes with zero-hours contracts infringes on every part of a person’s life. All workers are entitled to decent working conditions and a living wage” she said.