Dangerous employment legislation

  • New Employment Bill signals danger of populist politics
  • Draft legislation, including possible prison sentences, is disproportionate
  • Ireland’s reputation as business friendly economy to suffer if Bill continues in current form

 

Ibec is appalled at the progress of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 (commonly referred to as the “Banded Hours Bill”) in recent weeks.

 

The Bill was introduced by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection in December 2017 as a response to media reports of exploitation of employees on zero hours - which are very rarely used in Ireland - and variable hours working arrangements. However, the proposed legislation goes much further than introducing bands of hours on which employees may be placed after establishing a pattern of work over the relevant reference period of 12 months.


The Bill requires employers to provide a written statement of terms within 5 days of commencement of employment, even if the employment ceases within that timeframe. The statement must include an estimate of daily and weekly working hours – something that will be easily achievable in most cases but will pose a real challenge in certain sectors of employment, including the hospitality industry, to give but one example. Failure to provide the statement may result in a criminal conviction with a possible custodial sentence of up to 12 months attached. The bands of hours in the Bill as originally published last December would always have posed a challenge for business, but now that they have been further reduced, Ibec anticipates that this will cause real rigidity in the labour market as employers refuse to vary hours of work at all – unless absolutely necessary – in a bid to avoid being locked into unsustainable patterns of employment by the legislation when passed.


Amendments passed at Committee stage of the Bill included a narrowing of the band widths to as little as 3 hours in some cases and a new requirement to be placed on employers to offer any additional hours which become available in a business to existing part-time staff, regardless of skills, expertise or experience. A further amendment tabled at Report stage includes a proposal to criminalise the incorrect designation of an individual on a contract for services when, by a crude test set out in the amendment, they should have been described as an employee. This proposal also suggests that a prison sentence on conviction would be an appropriate penalty for an employer.


This disproportionate draft legislation has been an exercise in populist politics since inception, with political parties more concerned about optics than sensible, balanced regulation. Ibec and the business community now fears that unless political parties take a more responsible approach to creating legislation, a continuation of the current political structure risks serious damage to Ireland's reputation and competitiveness and does nothing to foster healthy industrial relations between employees and the businesses which employ them.