In accordance with its EU obligations, Ireland was required to establish a framework to prevent abuse arising from the use of successive fixed-term employment contracts. In doing so, Irish legislation now sets out that a fixed-term employee cannot be employed on 2 or more fixed term contracts for a period exceeding 4 years. Where this occurs the employee is entitled to a contract of indefinite duration. However, if an employer can justify a renewal on objective grounds then no entitlement arises. In a recent case before the Workplace Relations Commission, the Adjudication Officer had to determine whether the Respondent objectively justified the renewal of a contract where the period of employment exceeded 4 years.
The Complainant commenced employment for the Respondent in or about July 2013 on a fixed term contract (for a specific purpose). During this time he applied for another position with the Respondent and was successful in obtaining another fixed-term contract, which confirmed a specific end date of the 25 August 2017. By letter of the 26 July 2017 the Complainant sought to assert an entitlement to a contract of indefinite duration. The Respondent rejected this assertion and the Complainant ceased employment on the 25 August 2017 in accordance with the terms of his second contract.
The Adjudication Officer noted that the aggregate of the two contracts of employment was for four years and twenty-seven days and so on the face of it a contravention of the Act occurred – that is, the employee was employed on 2 or more contracts for a period exceeding 4 years. The Adjudication Officer further noted that no objective justification was set out in the second contract. The law states that where an employer proposes to renew a fixed-term contract, the fixed-term employee must be informed in writing by the employer of the objective grounds justifying the renewal of the fixed-term contract.
The Respondent argued that the reason the objective ground justifying the renewal was not in the second contract was because it was a different job, a new contract. The Respondent also provided evidence at the hearing stating that the objective ground justifying the renewal was to temporarily fill the role in the absence of another employee.
In referring to relevant case law the Adjudication Officer noted that a failure to outline the objective condition in accordance with the Act does not in itself mean that no objective justification exists, nor does it give an automatic right to a contract of indefinite duration. It was noted that the Act empowers an Adjudicator or the Labour Court to draw an inference on the employer’s failure to provide a written statement or the provision of one that is evasive or ambiguous, however the inference cannot “be drawn in a vacuum and must have regard to the evidence and facts which such evidence establishes in a given case…”
Based on the evidence before her, the Adjudication Officer held that there was an objective justification to the renewal of the second fixed-term contract. It was noted that the use of successive fixed-term contracts in this case was a proportionate and an appropriate means of achieving a legitimate objective. Therefore the Complainant’s complaint under the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act, 2003 failed.