MANDATE Trade Union members on Tuesday called on all TDs to sign the ‘Secure Hours – Better Future’ charter which would end zero-hours and ‘If and When’ contracts in Ireland.

The Union said Dunnes Stores workers, along with tens of thousands of others, do not know from week to week what hours and income they will have. John Douglas, Mandate Trade Union General Secretary said: ‘We know that 85 per cent of all Dunnes Stores workers say that hours are used as a method of control over them.

‘If they lodge a grievance, make a complaint or even join a union, there is the potential to have your hours and income slashed from 400 euros per week to 160 euros per week. This can create huge problems in terms of paying essential bills or obtaining loans or mortgages.’

Douglas said retail workers are concerned that the forthcoming government Bill will contain loopholes to allow employers to avoid giving their workers security over their hours. ‘Sinn Fein have a Bill, the Labour Party have a Bill and now the government is drafting its own Bill,’ said Douglas. ‘We need action on this now, but we need to make sure that the government Bill does what it’s supposed to do, give workers security over their incomes.’

The Banded Hours Contracts Bill, moved by Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane, has already progressed through the Dail and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The Joint Oireachtas Committee made 23 recommendations but the Ceann Comhairle’s office attached a ‘money message’ to the Bill, meaning it cannot progress any further without the agreement of the government.

‘We’re very concerned that the government will water down the good work that has already taken place in the Oireachtas. The Joint Oireachtas Committee has already heard from all relevant parties, employers’ groups, trade unions, legal experts, academics and more. What’s needed now is action,’ said Douglas.

He added: ‘There’s no point bringing in bad legislation which will not achieve the minimum standards set out in our Secure Hours – Better Future charter. Anything less than this will not serve the needs of low paid and low hour contract workers so we are asking all TD’s from all political parties to sign this charter and ensure our most vulnerable workers are protected.’

Dr Caroline Murphy, Lecturer in Employment Relations and Dr Juliet McMahon, Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations, who were co-authors of the University of Limerick Report: ‘A Study on the Prevalence of Zero Hours Contracts among Irish Employers and their Impact on Employees,’ addressed the launch of the Secure Hours – Better Future charter.

They stated: ‘The University of Limerick Report on Zero-Hours Work in Ireland conducted in 2015 established that “if and when” forms of working arrangements have significant negative implications for individuals including: apprehension related to the unpredictability of working hours (in terms of number of hours and scheduling), unstable income, difficulties in accessing finance and welfare benefits, and difficulties in managing work and family life.

‘The report found instances where employment contracts do not accurately reflect the reality of the number of hours regularly worked by individuals. The report noted concerns that workers on such arrangements report having insufficient notice of working hours and being sent home from work if not required, and a belief that they may be penalised by their employer for not accepting work when offered.

‘The report emphasised the lack of clarity regarding the employment status of individuals working under this type of arrangement. Legislative/regulatory reforms are required in order to bring clarity to this matter and furthermore to address the negative implications for workers.

‘Approaching 2018, a number of Bills have emerged but concrete changes have yet to be established.’

The ‘Secure Hours – Better Future Charter’ seeks to ban zero-hours practices – including exploitative ‘if and when’ contracts. It recommends:

• Provide workers with secure hour contracts that reflect the reality of the average weekly hours worked.

• Ensure a maximum ‘look-back’ period of 12 months or less to calculate the average weekly hours and the subsequent ‘band of hours’ into which a worker is placed.

• Ensure the maximum width of all ‘band of hours’ is no greater than 5 hours per week

• Protect workers from victimisation for enforcing their rights under this legislation.

• Ensure legislation is implemented so that current workers can avail of its provisions for hours already completed.

Mandate insists: ‘A band of hours provides a level of flexibility for employers but crucially a level of certainty over income for a worker. For instance, they will work between 20-25 hours or 30-35 hours, with no ceiling but a floor of hours which the worker cannot drop below.’

Appearing on television on Tuesday morning, Mandate leader Douglas said workers are ‘constantly dancing on a string’ at the whim of employers. It is horrendous – there is a lot of pressure on workers. This system keeps them compliant. It is like contracts of a century ago.’

Douglas said some employees are working up to 30 and 40 hours a week but do not have job certainty, which he said could lead to problems with family life. Douglas said Minister for Employment Regina Doherty needs to come up with robust proposals to plug the gaps that exist in current legislation. He said there appear to be ‘a lot of holes’ in the proposed legislation and the gaps needed to be plugged. ‘Anything else is just window dressing,’ he said.

Douglas said tens of thousands of workers, across dozens of sectors, are signed to these ‘exploitative’ contracts. He said some employees do work constantly but they are aware that if anything happens or they have a run-in with a manager, their hours could be cut drastically.

‘These are exploitative type contracts,’ he said. ‘They demand maximum commitment from employees but minimum commitment from employers. They constantly have you dancing on a string that they can reduce your hours, or increase your hours, or change your days or your starting and finishing times at a week’s notice basically,’ he added.

‘You’ve never any certainty and you can’t apply for a second job because you don’t know what your availability is like. It causes problems with your own family and personal life. So, it’s really horrendous and puts a lot of stress on workers.’

Douglas called on the Minister for Social Protection to introduce robust legislation to protect workers, adding that some of the current proposals are ‘full of holes’. Meanwhile, SIPTU members in the Abbvie Plant in Carrigtwohill, county Cork, began a 36-hour strike on Tuesday morning at 7am.

The industrial action results from the refusal of management to implement a Labour Court recommendation concerning the workers’ right to be represented by their union in relation to negotiations relating to all their terms and conditions of employment.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Alan O’Leary, said: ‘Unfortunately, our members were left with no option but to commence this action this morning because of the entrenched resistance of management to affording them the right to professional union representation in line with the Labour Court recommendation.

‘AbbVie management has refused to engage in talks concerning our members’ issues at the Workplace Relations Commission or at the Labour Court. Our members have experienced considerable hardship over many years with shift changes being enforced unilaterally by management without consultation or adequate notice.

‘The payment system operated at the company is also out of line with that of other pharmaceutical companies. Our members feel very frustrated and that they have been forced to withdraw their labour as a last resort. All that is required to resolve this dispute is for management to agree to talks as the Labour Court has recommended.’

SIPTU Organiser, Paul de Puis, said: ‘The workers feel that they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity in their workplace. We are urging the company to abandon their “head in the sand” approach and to engage in talks with union representatives.’

Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s industrial action was the first of a series of planned strikes, with two more 36-hour stoppages scheduled to commence on Wednesday, 22nd November and Wednesday, 29th November. Also scheduled is a 33-hour work stoppage commencing on Thursday, 7th December, at 7pm and a 48-hour work stoppage on Monday, 11th December at 7am. Pickets will be placed on the plant for the duration of each work stoppage.