EU: European Parliament Votes to End Use of ‘Zero Hour' Contracts

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By Joe Kirwin

Following the submission of more than 80 petitions from workers in the 28 European Union member states complaining about abusive part-time contracts, the European Parliament passed a resolution “to end precarious employment practices,” in particular the use of part-time “zero-hour”' contracts that provide workers with few benefits and little job security.

The directive would cover self-employed workers, domestic laborers, consultants, and freelancers.

European Parliament member Kirton-Darling Jude, a U.K.-based lawmaker from the Socialists and Democrats political group and a sponsor of the resolution, said the European Commission and EU member states must enforce the EU Working Time Directive against illegal part-time contracts.

“Over the last few years we have seen a huge increase in the number of companies employing people on zero-hour contracts,” Jude said during a May 31 debate in the European Parliament in advance of the vote. “Companies like McDonald's have decided they need to save money by putting employees on contracts where no maternity leave, paid holiday, or redundancy is given. If this type of abusive and irresponsible corporate behavior is not illegal, then it should be.”

Approval of the European Parliament resolution concerning part-time worker contracts follows approval two days earlier of legislation that will amend the EU Posted Workers Directive to ensure that employees sent abroad are paid the same as those in the host country.

McDonald Corporation Inc. failed to respond to multiple Bloomberg Law requests to comment on accusations leveled against it by Jude and other EU lawmakers during the May 31 debate.

Mixed Views

Opponents of the resolution insisted that the regulation of labor conditions and contracts goes beyond the competence of the European Union and the European Parliament and that the resolution would deny companies the flexibility they need to operate.

“Regulating labor contracts is strictly a national competence,” said Jaroslaw Walsea, a Polish member of the European Parliament from the largest political group, the European Peoples Party. “Flexible labor markets have proven to be an important way to increase the level of employment especially among the youth.”

Supporters of the resolution insist that EU member states must ensure there is “equal pay for equal work at the same workplace” and that it is the job of the European Commission to make sure they do by enforcing the EU Working Time Directive, under which labor contracts must ensure that weekly hours do not exceed 48, minimum rest periods are regulated, paid annual leave of at least four weeks is given, and extra pay for night work is provided.

The European Commission responded to the resolution by insisting that many of the issues raised about part-time contracts would be resolved by the pending EU Transparent and Predictable Working Condition Directive, which calls for minimum work schedule rights and the transition from temporary to permanent contracts.

BusinessEurope, which represents the largest 10,000 companies in the EU, has been highly critical of the Transparency and Predictability for Working Conditions legislation, which it argues calls for “minimum rights that are best dealt with at national, sectoral, or company level. It introduces a number of bureaucratic elements that will create unnecessary costs and fundamental legal uncertainty for companies and employees as well as undermine legal structures.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Kirwin in Brussels at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at

For More Information

Final text of changes to the posted worker directive are available in French here.

For more information on European Union HR law and regulation, see the European Union primer.

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