PAUL MILLS: Is this the end for zero-hour contracts?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wants to legislate to ban zero-hour contracts and to promote employment conditions that deliver well-paid jobs with pensions, writes Paul Mills

Such aspirations are fine and dandy but do not take into account the reality of the workplace in Ireland.

A zero-hour contract of employment is one which does not specify the working hours. Under such a contract, the employee must be available for work but does not have specified hours of work. The contract requires the employee to be available for a certain number of hours per week, or when required, or a combination of both.

The use of such contracts has grown considerably in recent years and has to some extent facilitated the return to economic growth.

However, such contracts do not support any sort of reasonable lifestyle and are not conducive to a normal family life.

A few months ago, a Labour spokesman said there were “too many people going to bed on a Sunday night not knowing how many hours they will work that week, and therefore how much they will earn”.

We can only guess how difficult lives are if you have no idea how much you will earn from week to week.

They will not be able to borrow anything more than perhaps a car loan. Owning a home will forever be beyond reach. The unions, quite rightly, have difficulty with these contracts. To some extent, Mr Varadkar’s commitment to full-time employment and better conditions is music to the ears of the unions but the unions are also realists and know that there must be flexibility if the economy is to continue to flourish.

Many businesses operate in seasonal markets and do have fluctuating demand for workers. The employers’ union Ibec has expressed its concern at the Government’s plans for legislation. Its position is almost the opposite of that of the trade unions. But hopefully, both the business group and the unions are aware that the contracts are not sustainable.

The aim is to find some sort of middle ground where people can have a reasonable lifestyle with regular working hours from week to week.


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