Professions views needed on swathe of new legislation

Employers have been urged to put forward their views on three pieces of
legislation that could transform employment relations in the UK.

The consultation was announced by Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia
Hewitt and includes a review of the Employment Relations Act 1999, which covers
provisions on trade union recognition, collective bargaining, fixed-term
contracts, unfair dismissal compensation and a raft of other regulations.

She also launched a discussion paper on the Information and Consultation Directive
which is due to become law for large organisations from 2005 and will force
employers to consult at an earlier stage and more fully with their workforce on
all issues that may affect their employment, such as redundancies and

The third consultation document launched by Hewitt is on employment status,
to try and establish if there are groups of workers not covered by existing
employment rights, such as casual or agency workers.

Personnel Today has asked the CIPD, the CBI, the Engineering Employers’
Federation and the TUC to highlight the main issues involved and to assess what
needs to be addressed through the consultation process.

Information and Consultation Directive

The EC directive on informing and
consulting with staff – to be implemented in the UK by 2005 – will force
employers to consult with employees at an early stage on issues that affect
their employment, such as redundancies and restructuring.

CIPD view

Diane Sinclair, lead public policy adviser at the CIPD, said:
"Employers will have to strike the right balance between informing and
consulting with staff and protecting the business interests.

"We are pleased the Government is consulting at an early
stage. It is critical that the resulting law in the UK reflects the importance
of economic and business performance as well as fair treatment of employees.

"It is going to be critical for people management
specialists how much flexibility they require in their organisation and how
much certainty they need. That is going to be difficult and getting this
balance right is going to be crucial.

"We need to look at good practice and see what sort of
balance would be most effective. We are delighted the Government is seeking
examples of good practice, which is a good starting point. It is essential that
CIPD members who have expertise in this area are willing to participate."

CBI view

Katja Klasson, head of employee relations for the CBI, said:
"I think it is important in the debate on consultation that the Government
recognises that employers consult with their employees in a number of ways.

"We were opposed to the directive, but we know the
Government has to implement it. We would argue for maximum flexibility to allow
employers and staff to come to arrangements that suit them. It is important
employers are involved in this consultation process from an early stage, to
ensure the end result is workable.

"Employers should also be thinking about reviewing the
arrangements they have to inform and consult with staff."

EEF view

David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy for the
Engineering Employers Federation, said: "It [the consultation] does not
get us any closer to the Government’s thinking on how it is going to implement
the directive. It is a very green document which asks a lot of questions about
information and consultation. We will be seeking views over what is happening
on the ground. All the evidence shows that a lot of practice is variable with
different approaches being adopted. One size does not fit all.

"We will be making the point that many of our companies
are not only quoted on the UK stock market, but in a number of other places as

TUC view

Sarah Veale, senior employment rights officer for the TUC,
said: "We welcome the directive, we think there is a need for it. Only the
UK and Ireland were opposed to it. It is for fine for employers to devise their
own systems, as long as they broadly comply with the terms of the directive.
There are some employers which don’t consult with their workforce beyond a
notice or e-mail. There must be some basic default mechanism that employers
must use."

Veale said the TUC wants the legislation to include some form
of sanctions to penalise companies that breach it.

"We would like to see some form of enforcement through the
Central Arbitration Committee with recourse to the courts in extreme cases."

Employers can access the DTI’s
discussion paper on
and have until 11 December to make responses.

Employment Status

The discussion document on employment
status will consider a number of issues, including whether there are any
categories of workers currently excluded from statutory employment rights and
whether extending employment rights would change the relationship between
employers and staff.

CBI view

Katja Klasson, head of employee relations for the CBI, said:
"We do not agree that there is a group of workers who are exploited and
being treated as second-class citizens. Some workers value the flexibility that
these forms of work [agency and casual] offer.

"Many workers choose to work through agencies because they
don’t want to be tied to one employer. This flexibility benefits both employer
and employee. We think many of these rights would not be appropriate for these
workers. If you have a worker who is employed for only three or four weeks and
towards the end says ‘I’m going on maternity leave’, it would be unworkable."

TUC view

Sarah Veale, senior employment rights officer for the TUC,
believes the review of employment status is overdue. "As things stand a
lot of workers are completely excluded from employment rights such as agency
workers and casual workers. The problem is that UK employment law sometimes
refers to workers and sometimes to employees. Tribunals have to decide if
someone is a worker or an employee. Health and safety and discrimination laws
are completely different on the issue. People who are classed as casual workers
can never claim unfair dismissal. For both employers and workers it is
important that this is clarified."

CIPD view

Mike Emmott, CIPD head of employment relations, believes the
consultation is unnecessary.

He said: "Workers on fixed-term contracts will be covered
by legislation by this autumn. Part-time workers are already covered. The
purpose of this is to give the TUC a chance to bring forward evidence that
there are current groups that should be treated as employees who are not being
treated as employees."

EEF view

David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy for the
Engineering Employers’ Federation, said: "This is not the most significant
issue affecting our members, but it will be important for a number of them. We
will identify the companies likely to be affected by this and get their views.
We will be looking at the practical implications."

Employers have until 11 December to
submit their views and can access the document on

Review of the Employment Relations Act 1999

The Government is to review the
operation of statutory union recognition and de-recognition procedures and the
wider provisions of the act including: fixed-term contracts, part-time workers,
employment agency regulation and industrial relations institutions such as the
Central Arbitration Committee and the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration
Service (ACAS).

EEF view

David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy for the
Engineering Employers’ Federation, said: "We think it is a somewhat
premature review given that the legislation has only been in force a short
space of time. However, if the Government is going to review the legislation,
we do have some concerns, which we will be passing on. We feel that decisions
made by the Central Arbitration Committee panel should be more explicit over
why they have reached a conclusion and judgement on certain issues."

Yeandle is unhappy that the TUC is trying to have staff
employment rights begin from the first day of employment. "We also have
some serious concerns over suggestions being put forward by the TUC. Reducing
the qualification period for employment rights was not an issue covered by the
Employment Relations Act. The TUC seem to be using the review to try and put
additional issues on the table."

TUC view

Sarah Veale, senior employment rights officer for the TUC,
welcomed the review as an early opportunity to see if the legislation was
working in practice.

"This is complex legislation including trade union
recognition, industrial action law and a whole range of other issues.

"When the legislation was going through parliament there
was agreement that some areas were not perfected, for example the exclusion of
small firms from recognition agreements. It is clear there are some areas that
need fine-tuning."

The TUC will also be pushing to have a reduction in the
year-long qualification period employees must work before they can sue for
unfair dismissal.

CIPD view

Diane Sinclair, lead public policy adviser at the CIPD, said:
"It is difficult to see what is coming under the microscope. The
Government has simply set out all the provisions of the Act, which would
suggest a very wide-ranging exploration.

"We need to see what the proposals are before we can
present the profession’s views.

"In terms of statutory union recognition, we don’t think
there is a great deal of evidence that would suggest changes are required. We
would like to see organisations given more time to deal with the Act. We will
be consulting members once the Government has firmed up its proposals.

"In terms of zero-hours contracts, we will be happy to
participate in the review, but it seems difficult to see what can be changed
where employees will be happy to work on that basis."

CBI view

Katja Klasson, head of employee relations for the CBI, said:
"Our starting point is very much ‘what is the problem this review is
trying to solve?’. The labour market in the UK is working well. We have low
unemployment, relatively few days lost through strikes and there is no reason for
major change."

The consultation has not yet
opened, but the terms of reference covering the areas being reviewed can be
accessed at

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