Doubts raised over staff rights agency proposals

Radical proposals for a new enforcement agency to protect employees’ rights
in the workplace ask more questions than they answer, experts say.

The Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) has called for a fair employment
commission to enforce workers’ existing rights, similar to the enforcement arm
of the National Minimum Wage.

Richard Dunstan, CAB employment policy officer, said a large proportion of
workers in the UK are being denied basic rights, and the new commission would
be a combination of enforcement and support for businesses.

As part of the proposals, he also put forward the idea of ‘parachuting’
state-funded HR specialists into companies, who could then assist them with
employment law compliance. But the Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development (CIPD) questioned how this would work in practice.

Ben Willmott, CIPD employee relations adviser, asked: "How would it
dovetail with the existing system? What about funding, and how would it sit
with the work that Acas already does?"

Dunstan said he envisaged the new employment commission working alongside
the existing system of employment tribunals.

A spokesperson at mediators Acas said it was too early to know the exact
details of the proposals, but she didn’t expect any agency to replace the role
of Acas.

Neil Bentley, head of employee relations at the CBI, said he was unconvinced
of the need for another government agency, and questioned how it would identify
the right people to solve complex employment issues.

The DTI also said it was not entirely convinced of the advantages a new
commission could bring, but remained "open-minded" about it.

Dunstan added there had been "flickers of interest" from trade
unions about the proposals, but emphasised the commission should not be seen as
a competitor to the unions’ stance of championing workers’ rights.

By Mike Berry

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