February 19, 2024
Sodium Valproate (Epilim) Inquiry
In November 2020, the Minister for Health, Mr Stephen Donnelly, announced that an inquiry would take place into the historical licensing and use of the epilepsy drug Sodium Valproate (also...
The issue of employees employed on ‘zero contracts’ or low hour contracts has recently been in the spotlight. The Government has approved draft legislation which if implemented would prohibit this practice, except in cases of emergency cover, short-term relief work for an employer or in cases of genuine casual work. The proposals will affect any employee on low hour contracts who consistently works more hours each week than is provided for in their contract of employment. The proposed changes will have a welcomed impact on those employed under zero hours and low hour contracts in Ireland.
A “zero hours contract” is essentially a contract with no guaranteed minimum hours for an employee. An employee is required to work on the basis of either (a) a certain number of hours per week, or (b) as and when required by the employer, or (c) a combination of both.
Zero-hour contracts have previously been a high profile issue in Ireland when in 1996 Dunnes Stores made a failed attempt to introduce them for their employees. Consequently, in 1997 the Government introduced the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, which stipulates that employees must be compensated for 25 per cent or 15 hours of the time they had to be available or on call for.
In order to get around the 1996 legislation, employers have used “if- and- when- contracts”. This means that if the employee is available and the employer has hours, then the employer calls them for work.
This has the same effect as a zero-hour contract; it gives part-time workers no security of hours, and allows for people to be employed on low hours, which consequently means low pay.
Whilst Ireland has failed to implement the EU Part-Time Workers Directive, France on the other hand has, resulting in the implementation of ‘’honest contracts’’ across their workforce. This means that if a worker gets a contract for ten hours per week, but they regularly work twenty hours, the extra ten hours are paid at double time, or time and a half.
What changes will the draft legislation introduce?
It is anticipated that the draft legislation will improve employment protection for low-paid vulnerable workers, and would give them more certainty as to their working hours and their income. However, a balance must be found between protecting the rights of employees and minimising the impact on businesses.
For more information please contact Marc Fitzgibbon, Partner in our Employment Law Group.
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