Employer groups have recently expressed deep concerns over proposed legislation to provide for banded-hour contracts including the "right for a worker to request increased hours and a corresponding obligation on an employer to consider such a request". Sinn Féin introduced the Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 (the "Bill") in June 2016, which is currently at the second stage of Dáil discussions before the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

In moving the Bill, Sinn Féin TD, David Cullinane, raised concerns that many employees on low-hour contracts are being exploited, actually working far in excess of their contracted hours. Sinn Fein's Bill aims to address this by allowing employees, or their trade union representatives, who have more than six months continuous service with their employer, to seek to be moved up to an increased weekly band of hours, as would be set out under the proposed legislation.

The Bill also sets out obligations on employers to consider such requests (currently not provided for under the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001) and to provide information to workers on "the overall availability of working hours”. Furthermore, refusals under the Bill are only legitimate “on objectively justified grounds” where the employer can demonstrate "severe financial difficulties" where such requests were approved.

However, there has been significant concern over the consequences of the proposed legislation with Chambers Ireland Chief Executive, Ian Talbot, describing the Bill as "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut".

While banded-hours contracts create the opportunity for employees to be promoted to the next band where additional hours are available, there is no "mutuality of obligation" whereby employees can be reverted to lower bands should work demands depreciate. The Bill could have the unintended consequence that employers choose to contract-out work instead of increasing banded-hours in avoidance of long-term obligations to deliver increased hours to such employees which they may not be able to guarantee.

It should also be noted that this legislation would be applicable to all workers, not just part-time employees, who wish to revise their employment contracts to reflect the reality of their employment dynamics.

This employee-friendly Bill has received support from many trades unions, notably Mandate, and its aim in providing certainty in respect of weekly income so that employees can plan accordingly, is admirable and should be facilitated insofar as possible. However, without considerable amendments it is feared it may affect Ireland's flexibility in terms of employment and jobs growth by imposing excessive obligations upon employers as well as raising potential workplace unrest and possible industrial relations implications.

It is likely that the Bill will need to be significantly amended if it is to reach enactment. In any event, we will track the progress of this Bill and provide any updates as to its progression through the Dáil.