Ged Nash attacks ‘19th century’ employment contracts

Ireland could be stepping back to the days of 19th century hiring fairs as tens of thousands of workers take casual jobs when and where they can get them, minister of state for jobs Ged Nash has warned.

Ged Nash attacks ‘19th century’ employment contracts

The Labour Party TD said he is working on measures to combat “if-and-when” contracts, offering workers little or no rights, exposed in an independent report commissioned by the Coalition last year.

While he could not give a timeframe for any clampdown on the unsecured working arrangements, he said he would like to see a plan drawn up within the coming weeks to be brought before Cabinet.

Almost 30,000 workers take casual shifts of one to eight hours a week, while 98,000 workers have arrangements giving them nine to 18 hours’ work.

“If these if-and-when workers have no employment contract lasting any longer than the length of their shift, then we are taking a step backwards, I believe, to the era of the Dublin docks in the 1950s or indeed the era of the hiring fair, going back to the 19th century,” said Mr Nash.

“Back to an era when an employer could simply pick his daily complement of labour from people lined up outside of the workplace... who could hope for nothing more than a day’s work.

“That’s not something in this day and age that anyone could stand over.”

The so-called ‘if-and-when’ arrangements were exposed in a University of Limerick study published last November.

They differ from zero-hour contracts, much criticised in the UK, because there are no obligations on either worker or employer to take or provide work.

Appearing before an Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr Nash said it was his intention to bring a report to Cabinet colleagues before the Dáil is dissolved ahead of the imminent general election.

However, Sinn Féin TD for Meath West, Peadar Tóibín, said that action was needed urgently.

“Most employers are decent but there are some unscrupulous employers out there who have used low-hour contracts and zero-hour contracts not just for flexibility but for leverage purposes with regards to how they wanted workers to behave,” said Mr Tóibín.

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