Help relieve HR’s EU law headache

Government needs to rethink the way it adopts European law to save HR from
getting wrapped up in red tape

the Labour government first came to power in 1997 and established the Better
Regulation Taskforce, people management specialists must have felt some
optimism about the new approach to employment law.

Government’s aim, to monitor regulation to ensure it was "necessary, fair,
affordable, and simple to understand and administer", would have given
them cause to rejoice. However, HR could not have foreseen the impact Brussels
would have on those laudable sentiments.

level of employment legislation coming out of Europe is creating an enormous
headache for employers and HR. While HR is not against new rights for employees
per se, there is growing concern about the way EU directives are implemented.

UK has to give effect to directives that are often drafted with European
employment practices and legislation in mind. For example, the EU directive on
fixed-term work was primarily designed to prevent employers on the Continent –
where temporary staff are much more prevalent – from using fixed-term contracts
to avoid restrictive legislation concerning permanent workers.

UK government has until 10 July to implement the directive in a way that makes
sense to the 5 per cent of UK workers on fixed-term contracts. Not an easy
task, given the huge variation in contracts and the reasons behind them. This
is a good example of Brussels-led regulation leading to a disproportionate response
to the problem experienced in the UK.

also arise as a result of the deadlines for implementation of directives. The
timetable is driven by agreement at European level, leading to consultation
exercises that are often too short for the wide range of views needed for
consideration in the UK, as the Government rushes to give effect to a

employers have only a limited amount of time to comply with the law. For
instance, employers had just six weeks to implement the Parental Leave
Directive in the UK.

need to implement EU directives also encourages the Government to focus on
reaching a compromise between the typically opposing positions of the TUC and
CBI. This is a politically expedient way of dealing with the issues covered in
a directive, but there is a need for a more open, pluralistic approach to
develop practical responses to European proposals.

addition, EU-driven law is typically introduced through regulations, so the
debates in Parliament accorded to statutes, which help to develop workable
legislation, are missed. In this way, Parliamentary time is saved, and press
attention on the added ‘burden’ of new legislation on business is minimised.

are left to pick up the pieces of regulations drafted without sufficient
consideration of how they will work in practice. Most organisations simply hope
that they are not involved in the first cases that supply the much-needed
interpretation by the courts.

way European laws are being introduced means people management professionals
are being distracted from strategic thinking. The speed of change and the
complexity of new legislation are making compliance a resource-intensive
exercise. Organisations are losing out as their HR departments spend more time
trying to understand the law than on how to improve the business.

Government needs to think about how it can adopt the principles of European
directives in a way that makes sense for employees and employers.

is little reason to believe the tide of new regulation from Brussels will ebb,
so the UK must re-visit the process for implementing EU law. Otherwise, the
main beneficiaries of the legislation will be the lawyers.

Diane Sinclair, employee relations adviser at the CIPD

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