What you need to know: Zero hour contracts

Following the publication of a new report by the University of Limerick into the use of zero hour contracts in Ireland, Caroline McEnery of The HR Suite gives a full run-down on what zero hour and ‘if and when’ contracts actually entail



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17 December 2015

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The University of Limerick study has been published which focuses on the use of zero hour contracts amongst Irish employers. This study was completed at the request of Minister of State for Business and Employment Ged Nash.

The study was carried out by Dr Michelle O’Sullivan and a team from UL’s Kemmy Business School and followed a commitment to undertake such an examination in the government’s Statement of Priorities in July 2014.

The study has found that zero hour contracts are generally used in Ireland – however, the emergence of ‘if and when’ contracts was identified by the University of Limerick.

Different definitions

While both types of contracts involve non-guaranteed hours of work, the main difference is that workers on zero hours contracts are obliged to make themselves available for work while those on ‘if and when’ contracts are not contractually required to make themselves available for work.

Low working hours can arise in different forms in employment contracts, such as regular part-time contracts with fixed hours or a contract with ‘if and when’ hours only.

It is important to note that this study focuses on retail, hospitality, education and health industries.

Key points of concern which may be of relevance to your business from the study are:

Hours of work:

  • It is recommended that the contract should reflect actual hours worked based on the average they worked in the previous six months – this may be problematic based on seasonal work environments and they recommend this is periodically reviewed and contracts are updated to reflect this.
  • A key concern is regarding the fact that after the employee’s normal hours are agreed in line with the point above if they are required to be available for extra hours they should be compensated by 25% or 15 of the time which is not realistic.


  • 72 hours’ notice is being recommended to give to employees in relation to any extra hours worked or hours that may be cancelled.
  • If they work with less than 72 hours’ notice they will be compensated by 150% which is unsustainable due to sick cover etc.

Minimum shifts:

  • A minimum of three-hour shifts are being recommended.

Additional recommendations:

  • One of the recommendations suggests that employees get contracts from day one and not up to two months after the employment commenced.
  • The contract should provide a statement of working hours which are a true reflection of those required.
  • Employer organisations and trade unions which conclude a sectoral collective agreement can opt out of some of the suggested legislative provisions above.

The minister has stated: “I am now going to undertake a short consultation process with employers, trade unions and other interested parties on the findings and recommendations of this report. My department will issue a consultation document to assist those who wish to respond and I would encourage anyone who is interested in doing so to make a submission.”

“I then intend to consider those submissions, in conjunction with this comprehensive study by UL and bring my own recommendations to Cabinet early in the New Year on how we should tackle this type of precarious work, while at the same time recognising the need for some levels of flexibility for employers and employees.”

Tailored submissions by employers

The HR Suite expects that there will be a lot of national debate regarding the recommendations which are very far reaching prior to 4 January 2016, which is the date the Department for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has requested submissions from interested parties by.

The HR Suite is advising that employers send individual tailored submissions, due to the very concerning impact they may have if implemented.

You can give The HR Suite a call to discuss your submission and we will send you the consultation guidelines to assist you in this regard.

Should you require any additional information, please contact us on (066)7102887 or info@thehrsuiteonline.com.




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