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Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017\Second Stage
Bills\Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017\Second Stage

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Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017

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Snippet Contents:

Mandate has collected evidence from its members that details how these contracts can be weaponised to punish workers in a very disturbing manner. One worker in a very well-known Irish supermarket complained about a fire exit being blocked. His hours were cut from 40 hours per week to ten for six months as a punitive response. Incredibly, this practice is not illegal as his contract stipulated a minimum of ten hours per week. This represented a 75% cut in this individual's wage. Again, how can a person plan life around this type of uncertainty? This type of hour allocation and wage fluctuation also has implications for welfare claims such as family income supplement and the casual claims for those on jobseeker's payments.
We must now ask whether this Bill addresses the issues identified by the UL report and the unions. The key objectives of the UL study were established by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. They were to fill the gap that existed in terms of the hard data and information about the prevalence of zero-hour contracts in the Irish economy and the manner of their use, to assess the impact of zero-hour contracts on employees and, crucially, to enable the Minister to make any evidence-based policy recommendations to Government considered necessary on foot of the study. If we are to judge the Bill on the third objective, we would have to say the Government has not succeeded. It has rejected and ignored several of the crucial recommendations of the report that would have provided enhanced protection for workers.
As a starting point, it is worth examining who the Bill will actually protect in its current form. According to Dr. Sinéad Pembroke of TASC, the Organisation of Working Time Act provided that employers give 25% of the hours they require someone to be on call for. The UL report revealed that in order to get around the legislation, employers use "if-and-when" contracts. If the employees are available and when the employers have hours, the employers call them for work. The difference between zero-hour and if-and-when contracts is that for the latter, there is no obligation on the employer to offer work and, equally, there is no obligation on the part of the employee to accept meaning that an employee does not have the protection of employment law. Consequently, this Bill does not tackle if-and-when contracts, which as the UL report on the prevalence of zero-hour contracts found, are much more prevalent than zero-hour contracts. Furthermore, zero-hour contracts already have some statutory protection for employees whereas if-and-when contracts do not. The conclusion from reading the various reports from TASC, UL, ICTU and others has been that in a wide range of circumstances, employees on if-and-when contracts rarely feel that their hours are truly optional and fear being "zeroed out" if they do not accept hours which are offered to them. The absence of protections for if-and-when workers is a very serious flaw and seriously undermines the effectiveness of the legislation. I will table amendments to address this issue in due course as I am sure will many other Members because it must be changed.
Nobody should have to work without knowing their rights and this information should be available from the day a person commences their employment. This is a core recommendation of the UL study and is echoed in an ICTU report from last year. Unfortunately, these proposals have been watered down in the Bill, which instead grants this right only from the fifth day of employment and only grants recourse where the employer fails to provide this statement for more than a month so it renders it pretty well meaningless because there are so many restrictions on it. There is simply no reason why this information cannot be made available immediately to employees. People should not spend an entire working week in the dark about their actual hours, pay and terms and conditions and requiring employers to provide this from day one is not an onerous burden when these conditions will typically be very similar for the majority of employees in similar roles. Indeed, in most cases, these conditions can be provided to employees before they begin working at the stage of making a job offer. That is a fair and reasonable expectation for employees to have.
Changing hours at extremely short notice without compensation represents a serious intrusion into the family and social lives of precarious workers. Workers schedule their lives around their work and the practice of cancelling hours at short notice can often put huge financial pressure on employees to work antisocial hours whenever they are offered because they do not know how large or small their next weekly pay cheque will be. While accounting for the fact that sometimes there will be unforeseen circumstances which require an employer to request additional help at short notice, it should be paying its employees for the inconvenience caused. Workers may have to arrange child care at short notice, cancel social occasions and family time in order to perform work thus damaging personal relationships and quality of life. The UL study recommends that the premium for being called in at short notice should be an additional 50%. This provision is not in the Government draft legislation before us and is a key omission which fails to address one of the most serious issues in precarious contracts.
The UL report recommended the introduction of legislation that would require employers to pay any worker it asks to come in for at least three hours at their regular wage whether that work is made available or not. Workers should not be made to come in for extremely short periods of time which take a large period out of their days and require them to pay for transport without sufficient compensation. A weaker version of this provision is in the Bill, which only compensates workers at the national minimum wage or employment regulation order rate rather than their actual wages. This does not provide the certainty that some workers need. We believe anyone who hires a worker has an obligation to provide them with actual work.
The Bill's provisions for banded hours contracts have an 18-month "look-back" period for calculating the average hours and very wide bands. Therefore, it does not protect workers who have not been in employment for a minimum of 18 months. The UL study recommended that this look-back period should be six months while the Oireachtas committee which examined the report recommended 12 months. A very sizeable proportion of employees in the sectors noted for precarious work have not been employed for 18 months and this length of a look-back period increases the incentives to turn over staff when they are approaching this date as there is greater scope to have relatively experienced staff while still avoiding providing those staff with secure hours and wages. The UL report also recommended that these bands should be reviewed on an ongoing basis to prevent employers keeping an employee on an artificially low number of hours. This is absent from the draft legislation. Unions say this long look-back period will lead to exploitation and have drawn attention to the "spread" of the bands as currently set out in the Bill. The Oireachtas committee, TASC, the UL report and unions recommend that the bands be no greater than five hours which would provide a degree of working certainty.
Finally, unions have noted that the Bill as currently constituted does not provide for sufficient protection or recourse for workers who find themselves at the mercy of employers who seek to penalise workers for exercising their rights. The Bill's current provisions against penalisation are difficult to enforce by individual workers given that individual cases of reduction of hours can often be justified by reasons other than penalisation.