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14 February 2019

Ireland: law banning zero-hour contracts will be in force in the spring of 2019

New laws banning zero-hours contracts in most circumstances will be in force in Ireland by the end of March 2019. Preparations for the laws were finalised at the end of 2018, with implementation expected this spring. Employers have reacted critically to the measures, whilst the trade union movement lobbied hard for further improvements.

Shortly before Christmas 2018 the draft ‘Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill’ that bans if-and-when contracts except in situations of genuine casual employment or in emergency situations passed, by the Oireachtas, following preparations in the Senate.

A year ago, the government had announced its plan to ban zero-hours contracts in most circumstances and strengthen rights for workers on insecure contracts and those working variable hours (see also our news item of 2 February 2018). The minister for employment and social protection said at that time that the draft legislation would significantly improve the employment protections for people who were, not through choice, in less secure arrangements and may not know from week to week what hours they would be working. She said the vast majority of employers treated their employees well and should have nothing to fear from the new Bill. At the end of 2018, the government had promised the new legislation banning zero-hour contracts would be in force in the spring of 2019. It replaces current legislation which is seen as outdated. 

The main provisions of the Employment Bill are: Employers must give employees basic terms of employment within five days; Zero-hour contracts are prohibited except in situations of genuine casual employment and where they are essential to allow employers to provide cover in emergency situations or to cover short-term absence; the introduction of a new minimum payment for employees called into work but sent home again without work; a weekly band of hours that better reflects the reality of working hours over a 12 month reference period; and anti-penalisation provisions for employees who invoke their rights under this legislation. It is argued that the legislation will help workers better demonstrate their correct employment status, improving their access to credit, including mortgages.

Some politicians have called the Bill one of the most significant pieces of employment law in a generation. However, the employer organisations have been very critical about the draft legislation, which they described as a disproportionate measure. The trade union confederation Irish Congress of Trade Unions also lobbied hard for amendments. Congress met with every political party and most of the independents. From the summer of 2018 on, the union gave the priority to have the legislation enacted at the earliest possible stage.

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