IRELAND A victory against zero-hour contracts: a point of support in the fight against exploitation

Last week we published the call by 407 labour activists from 52 countries for a world conference against war and exploitation, for a Workers’ International to meet on November 5th and 6th 2020. (A new version of the list will soon be published).
Among the endorsers of the call is Ciaran Campbell, who endorsers it on behalf of Mandate Trade Union in Ireland (Retail, bar and administrative workers’ union). We have interviewed him.

Over these past few months, Irish retail trade union, Mandate,has successfully campaigned against what is called “zero-hour contracts”. Can you tell us more about that?

Ciaran Campbell

Yes, the characteristic of a zero hour contract is that it is a contract between an employer and a worker, where the emplo­yer is not obliged to provide any mini­mum working hours. The employee may sign an agreement to be available for work as and when required, so that no particular number of hours or times of work are specified. Zero hour contracts have multiplied within the policies of flexibility and competitiveness imposed by the EU.

As a result of our successful campaign we won new secure hour contract legis­lation banning the zero hour contracts. It will benefit hundreds of thousands of workers in Ireland.

What are the main provisions in this legislation?

This new legislation non only bans zero hour contracts, it also requires em­plo­yers to furnish workers with their core conditions of employment within 5 days of starting that employment and also provides for minimum payments where the employer fails to provide their employees with work.

Can we say it is a major gain for the Irish working class ?

Absolutely. It is really one of the most significant pieces of legislation on wor­kers rights in decades. As Mandate Gene­ral Secretary John Douglas states, « Dunnes stores workers have 15 hour contracts.What we have won is giving them more financial security and all that that brings ». Much of the credit for having this legislation is due to the Mandate members in the profitable Irish anti-union retailer Dunnes Stores going on strike in 2015. The strike was the starting point for launching a highly successful and well publicised campaign where ordinary members, their families and Mandate employees regularly lob­bied their local parliamentarians and councillors to support their efforts and goals despite intense lobbying from the Irish business community and their supporting political parties

Why can we say that it is a leaning point?

It is not exactly the type of robust legislation Mandate sought but it serves as a safety net for workers against emplo­yer exploitation around security of hours and income for low paid workers and just goes to show what workers can win when they flex their muscle. It further provides for future efforts and work to have the legislation improved. It is a step taken in the struggle against exploitation.

Interview conducted by Jean Pierre Barrois