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Zero Hour Contracts- the Problem that Doesn’t Exist

Earlier this year, inspired by controversy in the UK, Junior Minister Nash commissioned a report on the prevalence of zero-hour contracts in the Irish workforce. This was despite the fact that there was no reason to believe that these contracts are an issue in Ireland, as their use runs contrary to current employment law. A team of researchers in University of Limerick (UL) were given the task of conducting this investigation or fool’s errand, as we said at the time. ISME met with the team early in the process and pointed out that workers are already protected from the use of zero hours contracts and that this is merely a non-issue.

Zero hours – Zero incidence

Lo and behold, the UL report was published last week and it declared that zero hours contracts are ‘not extensive in Ireland’ which, if you are unfamiliar with these things, is research speak for ‘we found nada’, zilch, nix, in fact they found ‘zero’. Of course, the complete failure of the hypothesis should never stand in the way of a good auld report, so the team decided to focus on so-called ‘if and when’ contracts which are held by about 5% of the employees.

‘If and when’ you can’t find a problem – invent one.

The premise of an ‘if and when’ contract is simple, if an employer has hours available he/she will offer it to someone and they may or may not agree to do them. This type of arrangement is most prevalent in the retail, hospitality, health and social work sectors. It is an employment model that is flexible and responds to the needs of the business and, in the majority of cases, suits the employee as much as the employer. It allows employees to have a flexible approach to their work life and to take on more hours ‘if and when’ it suits them. There is a mutuality – if I have work and it suits you – then you do it.

This type of flexibility is essential to businesses whose labour needs fluctuate according to external factors. Employers must be able to draft in extra help if the need arises and sometimes, because their crystal ball technology malfunctions, they have very little notice of this need for extra staff. A flexible workforce is a key component of any successful economy but the UL report recommendations seem to have forgotten this. In the absence of a zero-hour problem, they have decided that ‘if and when’ contracts require changing. Never mind that these contracts are a standard and necessary way to meet workplace demands which suit both employers and employees.

Three day notice of all unexpected incidents or emergencies!!

The Minister has promised a consultation process on the recommendations in the report. A consultation that will doubtlessly gloss over the fact that the issue which the report was meant to examine, zero-hour contracts, never existed in the first place. ISME will be responding to this consultation and will be sure to highlight the ludicrous and unworkable nature of the recommendations to the Minister.