Flexibility is being imposed on more and more workers in Ireland

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TASC research shows that ‘flexibility’ is being imposed on more and more workers in Ireland across a range of different industry sectors. Enforced Flexibility? Working in Ireland Today analyses the quality and quantity of jobs focusing on the hospitality, construction, financial services and ICT sectors.

Key findings include:

Hospitality Sector

  • Earnings are low because of the combination of poor hourly rates of pay with low and variable hours.
  • There is little structured training and limited career progression, while health and safety issues often go unreported.

Construction Sector

  • There has been a dramatic growth in the proportion of craft workers who are self-employed.  Many of these are ‘bogus self-employed’ having been compelled by their employer to declare themselves self-employed.
  • Many labourers and general operatives now work for agencies with irregular hours and fluctuating earnings.

Financial Services and ICT Sectors

  • Most jobs here are well paid, but these sectors have seen the growth of low quality jobs in back office customer service work and call centres.
  • Short term and temporary employment in these sectors has expanded with mobility now being imposed on many younger workers.

According to Dr Alicja Bobek, co-author of Enforced Flexibility? Working in Ireland Today, one of the most significant findings in the report is that ‘flexibility’ is now being imposed on more and more workers in Ireland.

“Flexibility in terms of working hours and arrangements is something that workers have always valued, but what now happens is that some employers impose hours on employees that suit them and the demands of the business but that make things more difficult for workers,” said Dr Bobeck.

“For example, in the hospitality sector employees are offered hours that suit management, but that make it very hard for workers to arrange child care or maintain a healthy social life. Once this imposed flexibility becomes central to the employment relationship, it may become more difficult for people to build a secure identity around their work, to have a sense of a long term career, and even to have good personal relations in the workplace.”

Professor Wickham said the trend of enforced flexibility is also prevalent in construction, financial services and ICT: “In construction, many workers have wanted to be self-employed, valuing the autonomy that it provided. Now however, employers are telling some building workers that the only way they can get work is by being self-employed.

“Equally, in financial services and ICT, skilled and well qualified workers have welcomed the opportunity to ‘job hop’ from one interesting position to another. Now the career model companies impose on younger workers compels such mobility whether the workers want it or not. If you haven’t hopped from one short-term contract to another, you are seen to be ‘not at the races’. Our research findings put the rhetoric of the government and the IDA about Ireland’s ‘skilled and flexible workforce’ in a very different light. It’s a flexibility that people have to have, not a flexibility that they want.”

Professor Wickham said that it is ironic that the Irish tax system seems now to facilitate bogus self-employment by allowing ‘employers’ to designate the recipients of contracts as self-employed with no consultation.

“In 2006 just under 25% of construction workers were self-employed, in 2015 it was 38% and many of them are what are termed ‘bogus self-employed’. They are like any other employee: they are working under someone else’s direction, they don’t have their own equipment and don’t supply materials, they certainly don’t employ anyone else. However, thanks to the Revenue’s Relevant Contracts Tax, they magically become their own bosses.

“The Revenue’s on-line system allows employers to become principal contractors and employees to become subcontractors literally at the click of a mouse. Providing the principal has the subcontractor’s name and tax number, no active consent from the subcontractor is even necessary.”

Professor Wickham explained that, as a result, workers lose entitlement to Jobseeker’s Benefit, which is not means-tested, and the State loses income because of lower PRSI contributions paid by building firms. TASC estimates that this revenue loss amounted to at least €21 million in 2015.

“In theory, workers can complain to the Revenue that they have been wrongly classified, but the TASC research came across no evidence that this actually happens for the simple reason that acceptance of self-employment status is now often a condition of employment. The Revenue regulations which purportedly prevent workers being wrongly deemed as self-employed are now a formulaic decoration. It’s as meaningless as all those ‘Terms and Conditions’ you promise you’ve read every time you buy something on-line.”

The report was published at the TASC-FEPS Annual Conference in Croke Park, Dublin, on 17th June 2016.

Download the report.



Media enquiries should be directed to:

Shana Cohen
Email: scohen@tasc.ie
Tel: +353 1 6169050

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