Unintended Consequences: Contracts of Indefinite Duration

Warning: This post is nothing to do with games but it is an issue that agitates me greatly. It concerns a matter of European and Irish law which is intended to protect the rights of workers but which has the unintended consequence of causing great injustice to those folks it is actually intended to help.

It is a directive of European law (European Council Directive 1999/70/EC) that "Contracts of an indefinite duration are, and will continue to be, the general form of employment relationship between employers and workers".  Permanent employees and those on contracts of indefinite duration enjoy many legal protections. They cannot be fired without reason for example. I guess the purpose of the directive to is ensure that employers aren't trying to get around these protections by hiring folks on a series of short term contracts.

In Ireland the consequences of this directive are that an employer can only hire someone on fixed term contracts for a maximum of four years and that any longer period becomes a "contract of indefinite  duration". In effect after four years you become a permanent employee.

Unfortunately these well meaning pieces of legislation are so out of kilter with the realities of the modern workplace that the law itself is now the source of many grave injustices. The rapidly changing nature of the modern business environment means that temporary contracts make far more sense than hiring permanent employees. In these recessionary times many many people are delighted to take up an offer of short term contract work. If you know anything about the working environment you will know that the easiest way to get a job is to be in a job and very often one short term contract leads to another.

However the direct consequence of the legislation which is designed to protect workers is that anyone who has been lucky enough to accrue three or four years worth of contracts with an employer is automatically fired  and will not be hired by that employer again.

This issue actually makes it hard for me to do my own job because it is the nature of our work that we need to hire people on short term contracts. Worse than that though it is a terrible injustice to those it is intended to help. I know several people who have suffered directly because of this. These are folks who's services were still required and who would gladly have extended their contracts but who were told no. No more work for you.


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