Give us time to say our piece on new laws

Employers have been tested to the limit by the Government’s record in
publishing new legislation. The consultation paper on the Part-Time Working
regulations, promised in December, was finally published in mid-January, giving
less than six weeks for organisations to respond officially. We asked the
experts how concerned they are about the problem, and what they think should be
done about it

Helen Froud
Director of corporate services, Worcestershire County Council

We understand that the Government has been on a tight timescale with its own
legislative programme as well as the need to implement EU directives. But it
does not help HR professionals to brief management on impending changes if
final details are published so late. The late arrival of the Parental Leave
regulations was inexcusable – how were we supposed to help staff take the new
leave when the regulations were only published two weeks before implementation?
Babies don’t wait.

Janet Gray
Head of HRand IT, Jarvis Hotels

We are not getting enough time to make sensible comments on the consultation
documents and this must surely lead to the Government receiving
unrepresentative points of view from employers. By implication this runs the
risk of impractical legislation that will not be fully supported by employers.
Even more frustrating is when changes then need to be brought in to correct
earlier legislation or to account for omissions in the original work.

Susan Richmond
HR manager, WH Smith Retail

There is no doubt that the job of HR professionals and line managers is made
harder by the late implementation of some areas of legislation, not to mention
when it is corrected at a later stage. It results in many employers being able
to implement only at a minimum level given the time constraints, which is not
always in the spirit of the relevant directive and not to the benefit of staff.

Media spokesman
Department of Trade and Industry

The Government values consultation. Effective consultation is key in helping
the Government meet its objective of ensuring it maximises the effectiveness of
legislation while avoiding unnecessary burdens on business. It keeps its
performance continually under review and is always looking for ways in which it
might improve the process. It works closely with a wide variety of interested
groups, representing employers as well as employees, including the CBI, TUC and
others, in order to draw on their expertise.

With reference to the Part-Time Working directive, the consultation document
was ready later than the Government would have liked. But the extra time was
necessary in order to get the Government’s proposals right. By taking a little
more time before going out to consultation, it was possible to make the
proposals clearer and more concise.

Mike Emmott
Employee relations adviser, Institute of Personnel and Development

The Government has cut the time available for consultation right to the
bone. This leads to two separate problems. One is simply the quality of the
legislation. How can employers hope to get the detail right if the Government
does not allow enough time for people to think about the practical issues? And
if the detail is wrong, then employers have an unnecessarily hard time
implementing the legislation.

The other problem is that employers cannot plan to implement new laws until
they know what they are. This means implementation may be rushed or late, which
again causes needless uncertainty and confusion.

The risk is that if Government gives the impression that it is concerned
only with the politics and not with how employers implement new laws, employers
will become cynical about them. And this will not help the employees the laws
are supposed to protect.

Graham Browning
Lawyer in employment, pensions and benefits at Freshfields

In recent years the Government has made several important changes to employment
law through regulations rather than by Act of Parliament. As a result there has
been little or no parliamentary debate and so the consultation process is of
great importance to avoid unnecessary uncertainty or expense for employers.

Recent consultation periods have been relatively short and defects in draft
regulations have not been corrected in the final version. For example, the
Government has already had to amend the Working Time regulations to cut the
record-keeping burden on employers. In the future, the scope of the Parental
Leave regulations is likely to be challenged. It is also arguable that the
draft Part-Time Working regulations, if implemented in their current form, will
not implement the underlying European directive correctly.

The solution would seem to be simple. The Government should allow more time
for considered consultation, for although a six-week period may just about be
enough for legal input, industry is likely to need longer to come to terms with
the potential impact of the regulations in practice.

Nicholas Taylor
Group HR manager, Pizza Express

It involves a lot of proactive work on our part to find out what legislation
is coming through and I spend a lot of time reading and attending seminars to
try to keep one step ahead. Employers certainly have to work at keeping
themselves informed and the Government definitely does not bend over backwards
to make time for comments to be made.

I think that it is more of a hassle for bad employers, however, than anyone
else, as most good employers are already doing what is being introduced as law.
I understand the concerns of firms without personnel departments for whom the
sheer pace of change must be frustrating and who are at a loss as to where to
get advice.

Martin Couchman
Vice-president of the British Hospitality Association

We had difficulties with the Working Time laws, where there was no time to
comment on any of the changes made to the legislation following the
consultation document, which can be worse than not being able to comment on the
original draft.

There needs to be enough time allowed for two rounds of consultation, the
first to comment on the consultation document and then to comment on any
changes. At the moment the Government has one go and we get left to deal with
whatever mess remains.

The time available to comment on new legislation has not been long enough
for any of the measures that have gone through so far. For many of those
employers operating in the hospitality industry – 300,000 establishments in all
– the first they usually hear about new legislation is what they read about it
in, say, the Daily Mail.

Robbie Gilbert  
Chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Statute and Practice

There is effectively a two-year period from the day the Government concludes
to change a law to when it comes into effect. With European law this is pretty
much a formal period.

In the UK, however, things seem to be ignored for the first year, then there
is a consultation in broad terms about the shape of the regulations. This can
be the last you hear of the regulations before you get a rushed consultation a
few months before they are due to come into effect.

The new Part-Time regulations are due to be in force at the beginning of
April. We have not seen them yet, consultation has only just begun and it does
not look as though we will see them until a month before they are due in. The
lack of consultation seems to be getting worse and worse.

Our members have expressed great concern over not having time to understand
the new laws or implement them. In many cases implementation is not
straightforward. It requires changes to company policies and training to make
staff aware of the new position, otherwise the employer risks unintentionally
breaking the law.

Employers need to see the detail in order to assess and implement new
regulations properly.

We have received a thoughtful response from Secretary of State for Trade and
Industry Stephen Byers indicating a meeting and it is clear that he has been
following the debate, which we take as a positive sign.

Compiled by Sarah-Jane North

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