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From birth to retirement, labour law is changing

Monday, January 7, 2019

As published in The Irish Examiner, December 28th 2018.

Employment law continues to evolve and develop with every year that passes and it’s interesting to consider the changes that are probably coming down the tracks in the new year.

The issue of zero-hours contracts has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years and the Government has announced that new legislation will take effect at some point during the first quarter of 2019.

Under zero-hours contracts, employees must make themselves available for work at the employer’s request but they don’t have specified hours: They’re effectively on call constantly. Employers have complete discretion when it comes to working hours and don’t have to provide work in the first place.

This has led to a lot of criticism and could mean that it’s very difficult for employees to plan ahead or to budget for their households. The Employment Miscellaneous Provisions Bill will prohibit zero-hours contracts in almost all circumstances. This will likely mean that employers will be forced to offer fixed contract terms.

It appears the bill will also bring another significant change — by introducing so-called “banded hours contracts”. At the moment, the hours that employees work don’t always correspond to the hours written in their employment contracts. That can mean employers can ask employees to work longer hours.

The introduction of banded hours contracts will mean that employees will be entitled to be placed in a “band” that more accurately reflects the hours they work, in practice. Determining the correct band will be based on a reference period. In effect, this will force employers to place employees in bands that more accurately reflect their working hours.

It’s highly likely that we will see an additional paid leave scheme for new parents introduced in 2019. Earlier this year, the minister for finance announced that parents will receive two extra weeks of paid leave in respect of every child in their first year.

At the moment, mothers and fathers are entitled to maternity and paternity benefits. Parents can also take parental leave but there is no equivalent social welfare payment. The new parental benefit scheme will change that. The intention is that it will be increased to seven weeks over time.

The recurring question of retirement ages is likely to see some movement in 2019. Public servants now have the choice to work beyond the age of 65 up to age 70 under new legislation signed into law this week by President Michael D Higgins.

It’s also possible that we will see the first steps in the abolition of retirement age entirely, in the public and private sectors alike. There is a clear trend, both here and in the rest of Europe, towards allowing people to work for as long as they are able. The courts have been steadily chipping away at attempts to force people to retire.

It’s also likely we will continue to see developments in the area of fair procedures in disciplinary investigations. This is an area that has been the subject of a great deal of controversy for the last two years or so, following a decision of the High Court which ruled that employees were entitled to bring lawyers to disciplinary investigations.

The Court of Appeal has since rowed back quite significantly. It now appears that lawyers are really only allowed to attend in circumstances where there is a genuine need for the employee to have legal representation. That said, this area of law is very much a case of watch this space.

Finally, the national minimum wage will increase to €9.80 with effect from January 1; it’s currently set at €9.55.

All in all, it’s likely that 2019 will bring a number of changes to employment law.

As always, the law continues to evolve and move forward.


Patrick Walshe