Archive for Oireachtas

On Zero-Hours Contracts

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , on October 20, 2019 by telescoper

In a week dominated by stupid things being said by stupid British politicians, one of the stupidest of all was the claim by Labour MP Caroline Flint that the European Union is to blame for the rise of zero-hours contracts. Caroline Flint is a Brexit supporter, of course, so she will not be interested in facts, but it is a fact that the European Union recently adopted a directive that protects workers’ rights and, in most cases, rules out zero-hours contracts. It’s up to the national governments to implement EU directives, something that the United Kingdom has yet to do and obviously will not do if and when Brexit happens and all employment protections go on the bonfire. As a Labour MP you would think Caroline Flint would care about this, but apparently not. She’s content to recite lies she hopes will curry favour with her leave-voting constituents and perpetuate her own political career at their expense.

Meanwhile, here in Ireland, the Oireachtas recently passed legislation making zero-hours contracts unlawful in Ireland `in most circumstances’. There’s a nice summary of the effects of the new law here.

I probably don’t need to spell it out but I rather think that the existence of this law and Ireland’s membership of the European Union comprehensively refutes Caroline Flint’s claim. Zero-hours are on the rise in the UK because of it’s own Government, not because of the European Union. I can think of dozens of other things that the EU gets the blame for that are actually the fault of the idiots in Westminster. Perhaps after Brexit British politicians will no longer be able to use the EU as a scapegoat for things they themselves mess up, though something makes me think they will continue to try and that the gullible public may actually believe them.

Anyway, the legal changes around zero-hours contracts in Ireland have had a significant impact in higher education, where many people – often (but not always) graduate students – are employed on casual part-time arrangements to run small group teaching sessions (i.e tutorials), demonstrate in laboratories, mark coursework and so on. The contracts on which such people have been employed have hitherto often been of the zero-hours type that is now unlawful.

As a response to this change in the law, here in Maynooth we have changed the contracts we issue to casual teaching staff, introducing clearer terms and conditions of employment as well as giving clearer indications of hours to be worked. In particular there is now a new category of employment designed for graduate students who are doing teaching, with terms and conditions that reflect their special status. All this required quite an effort at the start of teaching term this year to adapt to the new arrangements in time for the first teaching sessions. I only started as Head of Department on 1st September, and teaching started on 23rd, so this all caused quite a few headaches for me personally as I tried to get to grips with the new system. Fortunately, in the end, the transition actually went relatively smoothly and we have now settled into a steady state.

Of course it wasn’t the existence of graduate student teachers that precipitated the change in the law in Ireland. There are far worse offenders than universities in the use of exploitative employment contracts. Nevertheless but I am glad that the change has happened. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, according to UCU figures, around 46% of universities use staff on zero-hours contracts to deliver teaching.