Our reporter, Rosemary Haughey spoke to some students about working for free as a once off with the same large restaurant chain, with the opportunity being considered a trial period. Are workers being taken advantage of during busy periods?

It is a common occurrence nowadays for students to find a part time job in order to support themselves during college. With rent prices increasing and a higher cost of living, chances are that the grant just won’t cover it. Assuming of course you qualify for one.

The term ‘trial period’ may pop up somewhere between the interview stages, and applicants give a sigh of relief thinking that they have proved competent enough that the employer wishes to give them a go on a more practical level.

“It was the weekend of One Direction and the place was packed out so I’d say we were just brought in to cover the extra traffic. I contacted them after that and they said they kept all the CV’s on file and they’d get back to me but that was a year ago now.”

But what rights does the person on the trial period actually have at this stage?  Are they being trained in? Are there a maximum amount of hours that a person can be on a trial period for before they are told that they are official employees? Will they be getting paid?

Andrew Ferris, 21, hadn’t considered these things when he successfully got a trial period with a popular restaurant chain.

“I got on really well during the interview and I was delighted when they asked me to come on the following Saturday so they could show me around.  They told me to wear all the proper gear with the black slacks and shoes so I assumed I’d been successful and this was my training day. They showed me the stockroom and the kitchen and just told me to clean tables.”

Considering this was Andrew’s first working experience he was understandably a little bit anxious, however after a few hours he began to question what he was really there for.

“I ended up working an eight hour shift, just cleaning tables, with a 15 minute break in between and at the end of the day the manager told me I’d done really well and I’d be contacted when to come in again but they never got back to me.”

Fiona Hyland, 21, had the same experience with the Dundrum branch of the company.

 

“On my trial shift I actually ended up training in another girl who arrived shortly after me. The two of us cleaned tables for four hours. Nobody came near us the whole time, other staff or management. When I asked if we were doing OK or if we were due a break the manager told me that we could both leave, we’d done a great job and we’d be called to come in again.”

Similarly, Fiona was never contacted again by the company and came to the conclusion that they’d only had people on their trial shift that day because there was due to be an influx of people in the city that weekend.

“It was the weekend of One Direction and the place was packed out so I’d say we were just brought in to cover the extra traffic. I contacted them after that and they said they kept all the CV’s on file and they’d get back to me but that was a year ago now.”

According to Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) the situation is a grey area.

After hearing both of these examples Finn, a legal advisor at FLAC said “There definitely is a grey area when it comes to trial periods.  It’s more of a moral issue rather than a legal one. However in the case of these two young people the management do seem to be a bit unscrupulous.”

Niamh, a spokesperson for Citizens Advice explained that the reason it’s a little bit difficult during this time is because it comes down to whether or not any sort of contract has been signed. 

“Because they’re not technically under contract of employment it can be difficult for people to ``defend themselves if they feel they’ve been treated unfairly, however it is widely accepted that, especially after the interview stage, all work should be paid”, she said.

Having put forward these examples along with the responses from the legal group to a manager of the restaurant in question, he stated that it’s is assumed as a given that people on their trial periods don’t get paid.

“They’re brought in and shown around and told what to do. After that they should show their own initiative. If they don’t get hired then that’s that.

He was quick to shoot down the suggestion that they only brought people on for trial periods during busy times in the restaurant.

“It was summertime when the One Direction concert was on so of course we were hiring; it had nothing to do with the extra traffic. We don’t take people on just to save our own asses.”

Nicholas Russell, an employment advisor at Workplace Relations has a different opinion.

“There is no specific legislation for people on a trial period, however work is work and it should be paid. An employee and employer should come to a very clear agreement that the trial period is not going to be paid, that’s the only reason for no payment. If the employee does not sign a written agreement to say that they voluntarily accept to accept no money for their work then there could be repercussions for the employer. “

Nicholas goes on to say that it’s unusual for an employer to not outline the specific terms of the trial.

“Usually companies like to cover themselves so after the interview has been successful they’ll ask the potential employee to sign some sort of agreement anyway. If not, employees are covered under the Payment of Wages legislation and they could take a case against the company to receive payment for any work they’ve done.”