Those on zero or low hours contracts are protected by much of the same legislation available to workers with full-time contracts. Employment is a very highly regulated area of law in this country. We do not need additional regulation, the focus should be on managing instances of bad practice and not on reducing opportunities for flexible working arrangements.
A recent survey, of the Irish labour market, found that of 1.9 million people in employment 450,000 worked part-time and only 29% or 130,000 would accept an offer of more hours of work. Within that number again, a certain proportion will be self-employed and not covered in the zero or low hours contracts debate. Notably, as few as 1.7% of those employed are working 10 hours or less per week.
Sectors such as retail, hospitality, elder care and social care depend heavily on the ability to meet customer needs by creating jobs with non-traditional, flexible working arrangements. Traditional, full-time contracts across the board would not match the flow of work in these areas.
Additionally, this kind of work has created significant opportunities for people who want to achieve a better work-life balance, such as parents of young children, older people, people with health challenges or students, to work and focus on other responsibilities. For the employer, the ability to offer flexible working hours provides an opportunity to hire from a broader talent pool.
There are significant differences between British and Irish law. In many European states including Ireland, zero hours contracts are constrained by law. In Ireland, employees cannot be subjected to these contracts without compensation, they are entitled to payment for 25% of the contract hours, or 15 hours. Whereas in the UK, the employee can be on call for a set number of hours per week and receive compensation only for hours worked.
When it comes to setting out a contract, good communications is vital. Each party to the contract should understand what hours can be offered and agree on any additional hours which might be considered. Employees, except in very limited circumstances, should be permitted to work for other employers where they wish to do so, and the ability to refuse work above the contracted hours, without penalty, is vital. Zero-hours contracts in Ireland are not the same as in the UK. However, the questions around low and flexible hours contracts are relevant to how our economy functions efficiently.
Thursday, 26 February 2015