Consult… listen… act

Personnel Today links up with the EFSP to push for greater employer
involvement in the introduction of new legislation – an area in which the
Government has a bad track record, as Dominique Hammond reports

Any employer concerned about the forthcoming Part-time Workers directive has
until 27 February to make their feelings known to the Government. The draft
regulations were issued on 17 January, giving six weeks to get hold of the
information, digest it, consult with others, formulate a response and get it in
on time.

Employers are saying six weeks is not enough. It is, however, about twice as
long as the recent consultation on the guidance to the amended Working Time
regulations. Only an approximate time can be given for this because of the
vagaries of the Christmas post.

Joint alliance

In an open letter to DTI secretary Stephen Byers published last week
(Personnel Today, 1 February) Robbie Gilbert, chief executive of the Employers’
Forum on Statute and Practice (EFSP), warned that the Government is blighting
the success of employment legislation by not allowing enough time for
consultation with those who have to implement it. This week, Personnel Today
with the EFSP launches a campaign to gain more time for employers to have their
say.

David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at the Engineering
Employers’ Federation, said a minimum of two months is needed to provide
members with information, receive replies and formulate an industry response.

More time is needed if the documents are complex. The consultation period on
working time guidance closed on 21 January, only five weeks after it opened.
Documents were sent out before the Christmas break – to a limited number of
parties – but some did not arrive until the first or second week of January.

Valuable input

Yet, as Byers admitted at an IPD conference last July, the success of
legislation depends on employers’ input because only they can see how it will
work in a day-to-day context.

Yeandle too believes employers’ contribution to the legislation is valuable.
"Civil servants write this stuff but it is up to us to bring them down to
earth on what the practical implications are.

"One big success we had was persuading them to drop the need to include
a statement of the minimum wage in every pay packet. That might have seemed a
good idea to them but the practical implications were horrendous."

Time factor

Andy Wilson, employment relations adviser at local government body the
Employer’s Organisation, considers the six weeks for consultation on parental
leave was "probably adequate in this case" because it was
straightforward. But there was not enough time to put policy into practice. The
law was laid before Parliament on 29 November and came into effect only two
weeks later on 15 December.

"Quite a few changes were made to the draft. That did not leave enough
time for employers to get up and running," he said.

EFSP research shows that more than six out of 10 employers did not expect to
have implemented the regulations by the time they came into force. More than
half had not been able to obtain a copy of the rules a week before the
implementation date.

Support failure

A further obstacle is late guidance – as with the guidelines for the working
time changes.

"It is a bit of a nonsense to have a law without the guidance on how to
comply with the law," Yeandle said. "The regulations are only really
any good to people in the know. Most people rely on having clear, well-written
guidance and on it being available before the law is introduced."

Despite the practice the Government has had in introducing new law over the
past two years, Gilbert believes the consultation process is actually getting
worse.

When Peugeot personnel director Mike Judge tore apart the Working Time
directive for its lateness, complexity and ambiguity in a speech last May, he
was greeted with cheers from the audience of HR directors. But Gilbert believes
that, compared with recent documents, the original working time paper was
thorough and clear.

"It included the original directive and set out the Government’s
intentions and questions about how it might obtain them," he said.

"The draft Part-time Workers directive, which crept out on 17 January,
does not even explain where the regulations come from. There is no indication
of which issues are to be considered. There are a few pages of notes but it is
unclear what they are for. At first the DTI provided thorough and comprehensive
documents but that is slipping away."

Critical time

The Employment Relations Act, which contains some of the most far-reaching
changes to employment law seen in 25 years, gained Royal Assent last summer.

An important element is the statutory right to union recognition. It is
expected to be implemented in the spring but no one really knows.

Among those awaiting the 60-page document with trepidation is Gilbert.
"In terms of complexity this is one of the worst we have seen," he
said. "There is no sign of any guidance or implementation date. There
could be significant problems and we need to start managing them now."

What employers say

1 Not enough time is given to respond to consultations. For Parental Leave
there was just six weeks, for guidance to the Working Time amendments there was
less than five.

2 There is not enough time between the final regulations coming out and
having to implement them. Working Time and the minimum wage only allowed a few
weeks, Parental Leave allowed two.

3 Consultation documents are unclear and badly written. Part-time Work was
particularly unsatisfactory.

What the DTI says

1 There was already a lot of discussion going on before the official
consultations came out. Employers had an adequate opportunity to respond. For
Parental Leave they had two months but it is not just the official consultation
that counts. We had to consult on guidance to the Working Time amendments once
they were law. It was a trade- off between allowing a chance to respond and
getting the guidance out as soon as possible.

2 Employers had two months to implement Working Time.The minimum wage
regulations were approved on 6 March and came into force on 1 April, but they
were available in their final form from mid-February. The Inland Revenue wrote
to all tax-registered employers at the end of January.The Government’s approach
to Parental Leave was out on the 4 August 1999. Although the final regulations
came out a few weeks before they were implemented nothing changed during
consultation.

3 The part-time work document was intentionally kept short to improve
readability. We leave it up to employers to choose which aspects to comment on
without trying to steer them in a particular direction.

Feedback

Francesca Okosi Personnel director London Borough of Brent

• If there is not enough time for proper consultation the practical
difficulties do not get picked up. There has been quite a cut in corporate HR in
the public sector so there are fewer people dealing with more legislation and
more problems. If the Government sought more feedback, what they intended to
happen in the first place would be more likely to happen on the ground.

Steve Miller, HR manager, Midland Auto Trader

• The original Working Time consultation was ridiculously quick. We were
talking about so much red tape coming into the business. If they had come to
people at the sharp end of business and taken the time to listen, there would
have been less of a problem in the end.

Mike Judge, Personnel director, Peugeot

• If they must issue legislation it is necessary to consult the HR
profession properly before they draft regulations. This would save the
Government a lot of problems later on. It would hopefully also stop UK civil
servants gold-plating European legislation.

Tom Fleming

HR director, Jewson

• The Government does not consult enough and it is getting worse. The
deadlines for Part-time Working are so short it makes you sceptical about whether
they are really interested. We feel there are fundamental flaws with the
regulations. There is no provision for zero-hours contracts. While no
responsible employer would disagree with the intention you can’t help thinking
this is being driven by a timetable rather than a need to get it right.

 

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