The Government recently published a report entitled ‘A Study on the Prevalence of Zero Hours Contracts among Irish employers and their impact on employees'. 

The report is an independent study commissioned by the Minister for Business and Employment, Ged Nash, pursuant to a commitment given by the Government to undertake such an examination in their Statement of Priorities in July 2014.  The report contains a number of interesting findings, the main ones are set out below:

  • Unlike the UK, zero hour contracts are not used extensively in Ireland.
  • Evidence was found of the use of a different type of contract called "if and when contracts". 

Both zero hour contracts and "if and when" contracts involve non-guaranteed hours of work.  The main difference is that workers on zero hour contracts are obliged to make themselves available for work while those on "if and when" are not contractually required to make themselves available. 

The report identified a lack of certainty around the employment status of those who work only "if and when" hours.  This raises concerns over the extent to which such workers are protected by employment legislation.  Zero hours contracts on the other hand have a certain minimum level of protection afforded to them under the Organisation of Working Time Act; they must be compensated for 25% or 15 hours of the time they have to make themselves available. 

One of the concerns identified by the report is that ‘if and when’ contracts when used inappropriately may drive precarious working conditions.  The report also identified some key factors driving the evolution of these types of contracts namely:-

  • The absence of affordable, accessible child care.
  • Arequirement for flexibility in demand led services and increasing levels of work during non-standard hours. 

Trade union and employee bodies have noted that there are significant negative impacts for workers on" if and when" hours, including:-

  • The unpredictability of hours
  • Unstable income and difficulty in managing work and family life
  • Contracts that do not reflect the reality of the number of actual hours worked.

The report concluded with a number of recommendations including:-

  • Employees should receive a written contract on the first day of their new job.  The current position is that an employer has two months to issue same.
  • The contract should provide a statement of working hours which are a true reflection of those required.
  • There should be a minimum of three continuous working hours where an employee is required to report for work; if there is not, the worker should be paid for the three hours.
  •  An employer should give at least 72 hours' notice of any request to undertake work, unless there are exceptional and unforeseen circumstances.  Employers should give a minimum of 72 hours' notice of cancellation of hours.  
  • Legislation should be enacted to provide for employees with no guaranteed hours of work and those on hybrid low hours and "if and when" contracts to take an average of the number of hours worked in the previous six months as the minimum to be stipulated in their contract. 

The next step is a consultation process with submissions to be received from interested parties.  Once these submissions have been considered a decision will be taken on how to tackle this type of precarious work and the legislative changes needed to be implemented.