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Employment Minister Ged Nash Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland
zero hours

Labour wants 'robust data' on zero-hour contracts before doing anything about them

Joan Burton called the arrangements an “abomination”, while unions have labelled them “extremely exploitative”.

Updated at 5.07pm

THE GOVERNMENT HAS called for more “robust data” on controversial zero-hour contracts before it changes the system – which Tainaste Joan Burton branded an “abomination” in June.

Employment Minister Ged Nash today announced a study into the number of zero- and low-hours contracts being used in Ireland and the impact they had on workers.

“I think it’s fair to say there is a considerable number (on the contracts),” he said.

“I think it’s … important that we get a very clear picture of the practice and recommendations on how we might change the situation if that’s required.

If it is deemed necessary that legislation and regulations should be changed, then we won’t shirk from that responsibility.”

In June, before she became Nash’s Labour Party leader, Joan Burton said she wanted to set up a Low Pay Commission to look at issues like “the abomination known as zero-hour contracts”.

What are zero-hour contracts?

Zero-hour contracts require staff to be available for set hours each week, but with no guarantee they will get any specific amount of work.

Under Irish regulations, employees are only entitled to be paid for 25% of their contracted hours each week if they work less than that minimum amount.

In September last year the Labour Court ruled zero-hour contracts for HSE home help workers were illegal and ordered they be given at least seven hours work each week.

Today Nash said he believed that “work should pay” and he expected to have the study’s findings back by the second quarter of next year.

Fundamentally this is about dignity at work, fairness at work and ensuring people are properly paid about work that they do,” he said.

Contracts ‘exploitative’ and used by ‘unscrupulous’ employers

SIPTU, Ireland’s biggest trade union, said the study should be used to end unfair zero-hour and low-hour contracts which were significant contributors to “in-work poverty”.

The union’s services division organiser, John King, said: “The use of zero-hour contracts is an extremely exploitative measure.”

Such contracts are used by unscrupulous employers against low-paid vulnerable workers who work in sectors and industries within the economy that do not have high trade union density or where workers do not enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nash said the new Fair Pay Commission would be established soon after previously telling it would “take the politics out” of deciding minimum wages. / YouTube

Ireland currently has the second-highest share of low-paid jobs in developed countries behind only the US, according to the OECD.

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