Over the last number of years, the subject of zero-hour contracts has elicited heated debate in Ireland and abroad. A zero-hour contract is one in which an employer has no obligation to guarantee a minimum number of hours of work to employee, even though that employee is obliged to make himself or herself available for work for a certain number of hours every week.

These contracts have come under fire because of the complete lack of security they offer employees, resulting in difficult working environments and irregular incomes.

However, late last year, the government published the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017, which, when enacted, will ban zero-hour contracts in Ireland in nearly all circumstances.

After the enactment of the bill, the only zero-hour contracts that will be tolerated will be cases of genuine casual work agreed by employer and employee (wording that has still to be agreed upon), and cases where someone must cover an emergency situation or a short-term absence e.g. in certain cases in hospitals, etc.

The bill will introduce banded hours, whereby employees will be placed in a weekly band of hours (say, 25-34 hours per week) that properly reflects the reality of their hours of work. The weekly bands will be 1-10 hours; 11-24 hours; 25-34 hours; and 35 hours and over.

An employer may refuse a request for a change to banded hours if the business is going through difficulties, or if there is no evidence or long-term justification to support the request.

Other than exceptional or emergency circumstances, a minimum payment will also be introduced, whereby low-paid employees who are called into work and subsequently sent home without having worked or having received adequate compensation will be entitled to a minimum sum that’s calculated with reference to the national minimum wage.

The bill will also introduce anti-penalisation rights for employees, to avoid situations whereby employees are punished for exercising their rights.

The bill is expected to be enacted in 2018, so employers should familiarise themselves with the legislation to ensure that they are in full compliance with the law.

For more information, Joanne Hyde, Partner of Eversheds Sutherland Ireland, goes into further detail here.

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