Minister’s ‘Good Jobs’ consultation is long overdue

Fire and rehire, zero hour contracts, fair distribution of tips, and holiday pay are among proposals

Labour Relations Agency
Years of political stagnancy have meant that Northern Ireland has been left behind in its employment laws in recent years (fotogestoeber -

The unveiling of economy minister Conor Murphy’s ‘Good Jobs’ consultation was long-awaited and overdue.

Years of political stagnancy and a lack of desire on the part of previous ministers for the economy have meant that Northern Ireland has been left behind in its employment laws in recent years.

Unsurprisingly, the terms of the consultation have mainly been inspired by developments to our east and south.

The consultation papers are comprehensive, but among the 157 pages of the document, it is clear that some proposals are more likely to come to fruition than others.

The most likely of the proposed reforms to be implemented are the most high profile. Zero hour contracts will be a key area of focus.

While much maligned and open to exploitation by some employers, they can and do work for many. Their abolition is unlikely, but they may be limited to specific circumstances as in the Republic of Ireland, where the work must be of a casual nature, short-term relief work, or work done in emergency situations.

Fire and rehire will also be in the Department’s cross hairs; legislative intervention to prevent the practice is not impossible to imagine, but it remains more likely that we will see a Code of Practice similar to that recently implemented in Great Britain.

Developments in relation to the fair distribution of tips are also expected, with a legal requirement for full amount of cashless tips be passed on, which would be a welcome development for the workers but come at a cost for the employers.

The issue of holiday pay has vexed employers for many years, but there will likely be some much needed clarification with the reference period for calculation purposes expected to be extended from 12 weeks to 52 weeks, assisting local employers currently faced with the dilemma of reconciling competing reference periods in the legislation and recent decisions.

Flexible working developments will also likely reflect recent developments in Great Britain, including the right to flexible working from day one of employment and making the exercise of the right to request more straightforward.

Changes to family-related rights such as carer’s leave, neonatal care leave and pay, protection for pregnant employees, and paternity leave will all likely follow a similar path of modernisation as those seen elsewhere.

Ian McFarland.
Ian McFarland.

The consultation period set out, lasting until September 30, is extensive, fulfilling the purpose of devolution by allowing local voices to be heard.

Northern Ireland employers can now engage with the process, and while the proposals are inspired by examples from elsewhere, this consultation allows us the opportunity to make them fully our own.

  • Ian McFarland is employment partner at Eversheds Sutherland