Act now on staff rights or face tighter controls

Employers are likely to face further regulation unless they embrace wide
ranging new staff rights being introduced as part of the Employment Act next
week.

The Act includes the right for parents to request flexible working
arrangements and under a new equal pay questionnaire staff will be able to
request salary information on a comparable worker of the opposite sex.

Employment law experts have said the Act gives employers plenty of scope to
reject flexible working requests and the pay questionnaires are voluntary.

However, government ministers have warned that if employers choose to ignore
the new laws the Government will legislate to force employers to offer staff
flexible working rights and provide equal pay information.

Employment relations minister Alan Johnson told Personnel Today the
Government will review the flexible working right in three years to see if it works.

And speaking at an equal pay conference last week, trade and industry
secretary Patricia Hewitt said that if employers ignored the equal pay
questionnaire or refused to carry out voluntary pay reviews she would consider
compulsory pay audits.

Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development, said: "The Government is trusting employers to
do the right thing. They need to show good will or there will be pressure to
tighten up [the legislation]. If employers don’t behave, they will be
punished."

Brendan Barber, the TUC’s general secretary elect, warned that the union
movement would fight for increased staff rights if employers ignored the latest
regulation.

By Paul Nelson

The Employment Act

– Right for parents to request flexible working

– Equal pay questionnaires

– Maternity rights extended

– Paternity leave provision

– Statutory discipline and grievance procedures

– New rights for union learning representatives

Case study: Avaya
Avaya to widen its flexible option to cover all workers

Avaya is to offer all staff the
opportunity to work flexibly after changing policies to comply with the
Employment Act.

Under the Act, which comes into force on Sunday, parents with
children aged six and under will have the right to request flexible working
arrangements.

In response, communications specialist Avaya has decided to
extend the right to all 900 staff.

HR director Mike Young says the move, which will include job
sharing and homeworking, will boost recruitment, retention and productivity.

If staff answer ‘yes’ to seven questions from a nine-question
flexible working checklist they qualify for the opportunity to change working
patterns to suit their needs. The checklist includes questions on whether staff
have the space to work from home, how much independent work they do and how
much it involves supervising others.

He said it was not productive for people to spend hours
travelling to work.  "We need to
move away from the 1980s mentality where managers felt employees were not
working if they could not see them," Young said.  

He believes the company will be able to adapt quickly, as a
third of staff already have Avaya phone lines fitted at home.  

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