Changes to directive may cause headache for firms

Employing students is attractive to firms who need extra staff to cope with
seasonal changes in their businesses, such as the Christmas period or the
summer. However, certain pieces of legislation may cause a headache for
businesses employing casual staff such as schoolchildren.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) have caused a substantial amount of
trouble and confusion. The Government is currently considering amendments to
the WTR in respect of certain provisions of the Young Workers Directive.

Proposed changes

Young workers are defined as those over minimum school leaving age, but
under 18.

They are presently entitled to 12 consecutive hours rest between each
working day, two days weekly rest and a 30-minute break if they work longer
than four-and-a-half hours at a time.

The amendments seek to limit young workers to no more than eight hours a day
or 40 hours a week. They will not be allowed to work between 10pm and 6am but
they will be able to work between midnight and 4am where certain circumstances
apply.

Young people working nights must also be given a compensatory rest and be
adequately supervised at all times.

If implemented, these limitations may cause problems for firms, not least
because strictly controlling a young worker’s hours may create inflexibility
and disruption. If they are unable to work at peak times in a restaurant, for
instance, then they may not be attractive to employ at all.

Other matters

In October 2001, the WTR were amended and entitlement to paid annual leave
now begins on the first day of employment. Young workers are also entitled to
paid holiday leave, even if they are only working over the summer.

Under draft plans, the Government is also thinking of equalising the rights
of temporary workers and permanent staff. Young workers who work during the
summer holidays are to be included. As a result, it could become even more
expensive and complicated to take young workers on board – even for just a few
months.

To further confuse matters, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied
Workers (USDAW) has called for a legally binding minimum wage for 16 to 17 year
olds and the introduction of the national minimum wage for 18 year olds. At the
moment 16 to 17 year olds are not entitled to the minimum wage. The rate for 18
to 21 year olds is £3.50 per hour. Those aged 22 and above should earn £4.10
per hour.

What it all means

Work is a dangerous place and employers must heed the needs of young workers
when carrying out risk assessments. This involves providing basic health and
safety training, to ensure they are competent enough to maintain a safe working
environment.

– In a factory, it is vital to carry out a risk assessment where young
workers might be asked to use machinery.

– Employers need to make sure young workers are strong enough to operate
anything usually operated by adults.

– Appropriate supervision should also be provided, particularly when there
are hazardous substances in the workplace.

Arguably, there should be greater protection for young workers. Many are too
scared to complain about bad conditions. Unscrupulous employers can use this to
take advantage, resulting in young staff being put at risk of injuries in the
workplace.

Providing greater protection for young people in the workplace will ensure
they are not working excessive hours or through the night. However, it will
also make them more expensive and complicated to employ, and firms may feel
they are being restricted by more red tape.

The Government’s consultation period will end on 6 September 2002.

Lauren Anysz is an assistant solicitor in the human resources group of
law firm Eversheds

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