Minister Ged Nash launched an investigation into the extent of zero and low-hour contracts in the labour market. This is most welcome – we need this information which is not available in official surveys (though it should be noted that the investigation into low-hour contracts could be extremely limited as they are only examining eight hour or less contracts – whereas low-hour contracts can go as high as 20 hours).
But what would be even more welcome would be an announcement that zero-hour contracts will be abolished.
I will refer to zero and low hours contracts as precarious contracts. These contracts require employees to be available for a certain number of hours per week, or when required, or a combination of both – but without any guarantee of work.
Under Irish law, if the employee gets no work, then the compensation should be either 25% of the possible available hours or for 15 hours – whichever is less. If the employee gets some work, they should be compensated to bring them up to 25% of the possible available hours. Here are a couple of examples:
- Janet is required to be available for work for 20 hours a week. She gets no work. She must be paid, nonetheless, for 25 percent of the available hours – five hours (this is less than 15 hours).
- Bob is, also, required to be available for work for 20 hours a week. He gets four hours’ work. Since he is entitled to five hours payment (25 percent of his work availability), he get an extra hour payment.
I don’t intend to list all the negative impact of precarious hour contracts on workers. Suffice this piece from Paul Mills writing in the Examiner:
‘The ‘employee’ is effectively reduced to a commodity like a tin of beans on a shelf waiting until someone comes to pick him or her up. It is not sustainable and is effectively immoral.
This type of contract means that the employee has no guaranteed hours or roster but must be available for work.
Whilst the system is undoubtedly beneficial to the employer, it puts the ‘employee’ at a serious disadvantage. It means there is no sick pay, only limited holiday pay, and getting a loan or a mortgage is impossible. In fact there is no guarantee of any work, so no guarantee of any pay and all that leads from that.
It takes us back to the days when fruit pickers, dock workers, farm labourers and general workers stood at a designated corner and waited for an employer to come by in the hope of being selected to work that day.’