By Sarah Mac Donald - 05 May, 2015
The practice of zero-hour contracts has been strongly criticised by Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin as unjust to workers.
In a statement for the feast of St Joseph the Worker, Bishop Doran said zero-hour contracts are designed to give all the advantage and flexibility to the employer (or to capital) at the expense of the person who actually brings the greatest value to the work.
The practice involves workers who are theoretically employed and have to be available on a full-time basis but with a guarantee of no more than 25% actual employment and income.
Bishop Doran compared the practice to hiring fairs in the past.
These hiring fairs required agricultural and industrial workers in Ireland and Britain to turn up for work each day in the hope of being picked for work, “much as children pick a football team”.
There was no guaranteed weekly wage and this placed whole families at risk.
“One might have thought that, with all of the employment legislation that has been introduced in recent years, ad hoc working arrangements of this kind might have disappeared. They may have changed! But they have not gone away,” the Bishop criticised.
The needs of the economy are often offered as an excuse for the exploitation of workers or indeed for unemployment, he said and highlighted that the word “economy” comes from the Greek word for “household”.
“In our attempts to grow the economy, we need to remember that the economy is meant to be for people, rather than people being FOR the economy,” he said.
The Bishop of Elphin said that while it is right and just that employers and entrepreneurs should make a profit to compensate for their investment and for the risk that they take, he added that the profit made by those who control capital should not be disproportionate to the income received by those who provide the work that ultimately gives value to capital.
“A just wage is not determined simply by the need of the employer to make profit, but must also take into account the need of the worker to live with dignity and to provide for the needs of his or her dependent family members,” he warned.
Dr Doran also referred to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter on work (Laborem Exercens, 1981) which he said reminded us that, while the usefulness of work tends to be graded according to its economic value and its social status, “the primary basis of the value of work is man himself”.
In other words, it is not the work that he or she does that gives value to a person. On the contrary, the value of what is achieved through work is first and foremost due to the fact that it is a person who does the work.