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Proposals to Tackle Increased Casualisation of Work

Draft legislative proposals that aim to address current employment issues such as zero hour contracts, low hour contracts and banded hours have been approved by the Irish Government.

The draft proposals were brought forward by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, and the Minister for Employment and Small Business, Pat Breen TD, in response to the commitment in the Programme for Government to address problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious work.

Details of Draft Proposals

The draft proposals aim to address areas where current employment rights legislation could be strengthened to the benefit of employees, particularly low-paid, more vulnerable workers, without imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on employers and businesses. In particular, the proposals address the following: 

  • Ensuring that workers are better informed about the nature of their employment arrangements and in particular their core terms at an early stage of their employment. 
  • Strengthening the provisions around minimum payments to low-paid, vulnerable workers who may be called in to work for a period but not provided with that work. 
  • Prohibiting zero hour contracts, except in cases of genuine casual work or emergency cover or short-term relief work for that employer. 
  • Ensuring that workers on low hour contracts who consistently work more hours each week than provided for in their contracts of employment are entitled to be placed in a band of hours that reflects the reality of the hours they have worked over an extended period. 
  • Strengthening the anti-victimisation provisions for employees who try to invoke a right under these proposals.

Improving Employment Protections

"I am very pleased that the Government has agreed to the priority drafting of this important legislation,” commented Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor. “It is important because it will improve the employment protections for low-paid, vulnerable workers in particular. It will also improve the predictability of hours of work and earnings for many employees whose contract of employment does not reflect the reality of the hours they work on a consistent basis.”

The Ministers’ proposals were informed by the University of Limerick study on zero hour contracts and low hour contracts, as well as the extensive material and practical examples provided by respondents to the public consultation on that study conducted by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

University of Limerick Study

The University of Limerick study was the first undertaken in Ireland on the use of zero hour contracts. It revealed a number of interesting findings, including the fact that zero hour contracts were just one type of contract in use that gave no guarantee of working hours.

Another, similar contract type that was in much wider use was If and When contracts, which differ from zero hour contracts in that they do not contain any contractual requirement for the employee to make themselves available for work.

Researchers found that employers defended the use of these contracts by saying they offered flexible working hours that were valued by employees. However, their use was criticised by trade unions because the inherent unpredictability and uncertainty around working hours can cause substantial problems for employees.

The recently published draft legislative proposals will now be referred to the Office of the Attorney General for priority drafting of a Bill.

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