On 3 November 2015, the Minister for Business and Employment, Ged Nash TD, published "A Study on the Prevalence of Zero Hours Contracts among Irish Employers and the Impact on Employees".

A research team at the University of Limerick was appointed to undertake this study – the first of its kind – on zero hours contracts in Ireland. The Terms of Reference of the study specified a broad scope, covering both the public and private sectors, with a particular focus on the retail, hospitality, education and health sectors.

Trades Unions in recent times have focused their attention on the area of low-paid flexible contracts where employees have little protection and face increased difficulties in relation to childcare, accessing social welfare benefits, unstable income and challenges accessing financial credit. Earlier this year, Mandate Trade Union and Dunnes Stores' workers went on strike in relation to the use of such "casual contracts" or "zero hour contracts".

The report found that there are two types of contracts in Ireland with non-guaranteed working hours – zero hours contracts and "if and when" contracts. While the study found that zero hours contracts are not prevalent, "if and when" contracts are commonly used by employers. The fundamental difference between the two types of contract is that individuals with a zero hours contract are contractually required to make themselves available for work with their employer and have protections under employment legislation, while individuals with an "if and when" contract are not.

The report outlines the views of employer organisations which argue that "if and when" contracts suit employees because they provide flexible working hours. In contrast, trades unions and NGO’s claim that "if and when" contracts have bothsignificant and negative implications for employees, particularly with regard to the unpredictability of the number and scheduling of working hours. The report finds that people on "if and when” contracts are particularly vulnerable because they may not be defined as employees under employment law and therefore may not be entitled to the protections of employment legislation.

The report makes a number of recommendations, which include:

  • A statutory requirement to furnish a written statement of employment to employees on first day of employment
  • Protections for "if and when" contracts to be legislated for
  • At least 72 hours advance notice of work to be given to employees
  • A minimum of 3 continuous working hours to be given or payment for such
  • Consideration to be given to the legal position of people with "if and when" contracts and their employment status

Minister Nash has indicated that he will engage in a short consultation process with employers, trades unions and other interested parties on the report’s findings and recommendations. He then intends to bring recommendations surrounding non-guaranteed working hours to Government in early 2016 and it is likely that legislation will be introduced in the near future.