Proposals to ban zero-hour contracts welcomed by trade unions

The Cabinet has approved a draft bill aiming to improve employment protection for low-paid vulnerable workers

Proposals to ban zero-hour contracts welcomed by trade unions

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Image: RollingNews.ie

Trade unions have welcomed proposals aiming to protect casual workers and ban zero-hour contracts.

The Cabinet has approved a draft bill which the Jobs Minister has said will improve employment protection for low-paid vulnerable workers.

The proposals will seek to address the issue of employees whose contracts do not reflect the reality of their hours worked - and will prohibit zero-hour contracts “in most circumstances.”

They will also ensure that workers are entitled to clear information about the core terms of their employment within five days of beginning a new job.

Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor said the proposal will, “improve the employment protections for low-paid, vulnerable workers in particular.”

Positive and progressive

Patricia King, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) said much of what is contained in the draft legislation is “quite positive.”

She said zero-hour, low hour and precarious work practices have led to a number of high profile industrial disputes in the retail sector in recent years.  

“Congress believes that the proposed prohibition on zero hour contracts in the draft legislation is positive and progressive, but believes that issues remain to be resolved with regard to the appropriate rate of pay that will apply,” she said.

“Congress notes that the draft legislation would entitle workers to request banded hour contracts, based on their established pattern of working hours - something that would be hugely beneficial to workers across the economy - helping to create more certainty around their hours of work and greater security of income.”

Crude and disproportionate

However, business groups have described the measures as “crude and disproportionate” and claimed they could expose employers to criminal prosecution.

“This crude, disproportionate, proposed Bill has significant adverse consequences which very few people would want,” said IBEC director of employee relations, Maeve McElwee. “It would deprive employees and employers of the ability to make their own flexible working arrangements and to adapt to change collaboratively.”

The group said the proposed bill goes far beyond its intended purpose of protecting workers with low pay/low hour contracts – and claimed the administrative costs incurred in determining the average weekly hours worked by every employee will have negative effects for employers.

Published and enacted

The proposals have been welcomed by Fianna Fáil, however the party’s spokesperson on jobs, Niall Collins has criticised the length of time its taking the Government to bring forward legislation on the issue.

He said the government’s commitment to ending zero-hour contracts will be measured by how quickly it publishes and enacts legislation – not by promises to do so.

“The impact that this is having on people’s lives and on their families in terms of trying to secure loans for example for mortgages and for cars – people need certainty around their working conditions,” he said.

“The government has been really slow in coming forward with proper legislation to address this issue and we are glad that the government took the step to recognise this as priority but really it coming very late in the day.”

The new proposals were informed by a University of Limerick Study on zero-hour and low hour contracts as well as extensive public consultation.