Government makes concessions to employers on employment law agenda
Policy announcements made during September and October 2009 indicate that the government has adjusted its employment law agenda in response to pressure from employer groups and adverse economic circumstances. This includes delaying UK implementation of the EU directive on temporary agency work. Trade unions have expressed disappointment at the government’s move, while the employers have welcomed it. Meanwhile, the employers have criticised the enhanced paternity leave plan.
On 15 October 2009, the government published a ‘forward regulatory programme (653Kb PDF)’, intended to ‘improve the management and scrutiny of new regulations’ and enable decisions to be taken ‘in the context of the cumulative burden of the government’s regulatory programme on business and the wider economy’.
Aspects of government programme
Among 26 planned regulatory initiatives that will be delayed or dropped in the light of current economic circumstances, the government announced that:
- legislation to implement the EU Directive 2008/104/EC on temporary agency work would not take effect until October 2011 – the latest possible fixed commencement date (that is, 1 April or 1 October) consistent with the directive’s implementation deadline of 5 December 2011;
- a planned right for workers to request time off work to undertake training will be introduced in phases so that small companies are not immediately included. The ‘time to train’ legislation will be introduced in April 2010 for larger businesses with more than 250 staff and will not be extended to employees in smaller businesses until April 2011 or later;
- rather than introducing legislation to extend employees’ time off work entitlement to include a wider range of civic roles and duties, the government will work with employer organisations to develop a campaign and produce an information pack to encourage people to volunteer for civic roles.
Agency workers regulations
On the same day, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) published a consultation document (917Kb PDF) seeking views on draft regulations to implement the EU temporary agency workers directive.
In 2008, the government reached an agreement with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) on how to implement equal treatment for temporary agency workers (UK0806039I). According to the Employment Relations Minister, Pat McFadden, ‘careful and sometimes difficult negotiations were required to get the CBI-TUC agreement reflected in the final EU Directive. This allows us to implement the Directive in this country in a way which gives fair treatment to agency workers and maintains labour market flexibility’.
Under the regulations, temporary agency workers will be entitled, after 12 weeks in a given job, to equal treatment with directly recruited employees in respect of basic working and employment conditions, including pay and holidays.
Views of social partners
The government says it is committed to getting the legislation onto the statute book by the end of the term of the current parliament. However, it will delay the entry into force of the regulations until October 2011 in order to ‘[give] recruiters and their clients time to prepare and plan. We are also mindful of the need to avoid changing requirements on business until the economic recovery is more firmly established’.
Employer organisations, which had lobbied for a delay in the regulations’ implementation, welcomed the government’s move. Some organisations, including the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and the Institute of Directors, called for wider moves to shelve new employment laws.
In contrast, trade unions expressed disappointment. The General Secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barber, stated that new rights for temporary agency workers must be a ‘priority’. It was ‘extremely disappointing that temps will have to wait so long for these rights to come into effect. Agency workers are even more in need of protection during a recession.’
Flexible parental leave regulations
On 25 September 2009, the government published a consultation document (787Kb PDF) on draft regulations enabling working fathers to take up to six months’ additional paternity leave. The new regulations will allow mothers who go back to work after six months to transfer their unused six months of maternity leave to their partner. This would give fathers a statutory right to up to three months’ paid leave and three months’ unpaid – in addition to the two weeks’ paid leave they can take at present.
The Minister for Women and Equality, Harriet Harman, stated: ‘This gives families radically more choice and flexibility in how they balance work and care of children, and enables fathers to play a bigger part in bringing up their children’.
Employer organisations reacted with hostility to the enhanced paternity leave plan. The BCC warned that it could be an ‘administrative nightmare’. However, the Financial Times reported that employers had persuaded the government to drop plans to extend paid maternity leave from nine months to one year by the end of the term of the current parliament, in spite of its earlier ambitions to do so (UK0511102F).
Mark Hall, IRRU, University of Warwick