Government should take the time to listen

With
Labour once again in Government, we ask what hopes and fears employers have for
the legislation affecting them. What did Labour get right on employment law
during ITS first term and where did IT go wrong? Compiled by Sarah-Jane North

Peter Reid
Head of Peter Reid Consulting, consultancy on UK and European employment
legislation

My hope is quite simple – that the Government will allow more time between deciding
new rules and their date for implementation, to enable HR managers to plan
ahead properly for the changes. What I fear is the lack of joined-up thinking
on employment issues and the lack of a coherent ideology.

But my real fear is of the Euro-paranoia among employers. Employers worry
about overly intrusive legislation from Brussels and automatically see it as a
challenge rather than an opportunity for change. They automatically assume that
all European legislation is negative.

We could learn a lot from Europe and other countries, but we are growing a
very narrow outlook and only look in a very limited way at what is happening in
countries such as the US. For example, we talk up the free market policies in
the US, ignoring the impact and cost consequences of their anti-discrimination
legislation.

We need to address and better understand how others handle issues such as
mass redundancies. It is not good enough to simply say that it is hard to make
people redundant in Germany and easy in the UK. HR needs to become far more
sophisticated in managing difficult issues and come up with far better
arguments for their actions than they have in the past.

We analysed the election manifestos of the main political parties and
strikingly, none of them were prepared to commit themselves to anything.

Labour had clear proposals on the link between family and working life but
this will be developed on the social security front rather than within the
employment field.

More pertinent to Labour’s second term is the fact that there are just as
many outstanding EU directives to be implemented in the UK, six to be precise,
as there were when they came to power in 1997. And all six are to be
implemented in the next six years. This makes it even more urgent that they focus
on and understand that companies need to plan for implementation and develop
strategies.

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

Our focus is very much on the
translation of Labour’s mandate into legislation. They had considerable
problems in their first term with regards to effective consultation. It was
also a problem with implementing EU directives into UK law. Typically they have
had three years to translate directives into UK law but we have not been
getting the opportunity for consultation that would make the legislation
practical. Such has been the case with the Working Time directive, through now
to the Burden of Proof directive.

In their manifesto Labour promised to review the impact and
working of major pieces of law within three years of implementation and to
improve the quality of regulation impact assessments. They have suggested the
possible introduction of external audits on regulation impact assessments and
we would welcome that because these have become laughably inadequate.

Nick Isles
Spokesman for the Industrial Society

We need sensible regulation and
regulation that is delivered by a more refined and sophisticated process than
we have seen of late. We have a prime opportunity to do that with the directive
on consultation, to put in place a way of doing business that helps companies
to do business. We need regulation that is sensitive, that has a "made in
Britain" feel and that employers feel happy about. The Industrial society has
always been a champion of sensible regulation, but what we have had of late is
a sterile debate, a networked animosity between the social partners. We need a
process of delivering a regulatory system that people feel is working.

There is no under-swell of objection from the majority of
employers to regulation, just to the lack of time they have to deal with it.
There is a the need for data on how employers are delivering in areas where
there is no regulation so that we can accurately target regulation in the future.

Gerwyn Davies
Spokesman for the CIPD

We conducted a survey of our members
at the time of the election and the clear message that came from that was
"enough is enough". The majority do not have any quibbles with the
regulations implemented to date, but they are saying we now need a period of
consolidation. Our main hope for Labour’s second term is that any workplace
legislation is minimised.

In terms of the prominent issues of equal pay and ageism, there
are European directives to be followed in the coming few years and we feel that
Labour has done a good job of raising general awareness in these areas,
postponing legislation until a suitable time. We are involved with the Government
in the Age Positive campaign to raise awareness and alert employers to the
issues of ageism.

If we had a criticism it would be that consultation times, in
some areas, have not been long enough to get satisfactory responses from
organisations such as ourselves.

John Monks
TUC president

Labour achieved much for people at
work in their first term but I hope that in their second term they follow the
approach of the minimum wage and low pay commissions, rather than the
overcomplicated Working Time regulations’ precedent.

The new commission on work-life balance, to be chaired by
George Bain, is a welcome extension of the social partnership approach. I hope
now all sides work to accept the new European Information and Consultation
directive and that employers, unions and government will work together to make
this an effective reality, but within UK traditions.

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