On 19 September 2017, the Government’s Chief Whip, Joe McHugh released the Government’s Autumn Legislative Programme. The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (“the Bill”) is flagged for priority publication this legislative session.
The Bill aims to protect low-paid and vulnerable workers by effectively banning zero-hour contracts and bringing in banded contract hours. Under a zero-hour contract, an employer does not have to provide minimum (or any) working hours to an employee, but the employee must be available for work for a certain number of hours per week.
Employees on zero-hour contracts are currently protected by the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 (“OWTA”). Section 18 of the OWTA provides that employees, who must be available for work for a certain number of hours a week, or as and when the employer requires him/her, are entitled, if they work less than 25 percent of their hours in a given week, to be paid for up 25% of the possible available hours or 15 hours, whichever is less. However, this protection does not apply to employees who are engaged to do casual work (which is not defined by the Act).
The Bill will amend the OWTA to prohibit zero-hours contracts in most circumstances, unless it is genuinely casual work, emergency cover or short-term relief work.
The draft legislative proposals for the Bill were brought forward by Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Minister Pat Breen. A press release published by Merrion Street (the Government’s Press Service) has provided some insight into the key issues, which the Bill will aim to address 1. The press release confirms that the draft legislative proposals aim to protect employees by:
- Ensuring that workers on low hour contracts, who continuously work more hours, will be placed on a band of hours, which reflect the hours that they actually work;
- Requiring employers to provide employees, within 5 days of commencement of their employment, with their core terms (name and address of employer, duration of contract, rate and method of pay and working hours). The remaining terms of employment must be provided within 2 months, as is currently required;
- Providing that employees, who are called into work but are then not required to work, are paid the minimum of three times the National Minimum Wage.
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, confirmed on 3 October 2017 that the Bill is currently being drafted and will be published before Christmas. We shall provide further updates on the Bill once it is published.