Employment Bill will have dramatic impact

Employment Relations Minister Alan Johnson outlines the new bill to Ross

Q Will the new rights for parents to request flexible working
arrangements have an impact?

A This will have a real impact. It is speeding up a process that is
taking place anyway – many companies already have excellent arrangements.
During our exhaustive consultation the message we received was that parents
should have forms of flexible working, such as compressed hours.

We felt if we tried to spread this by Best Practice we would lose a
generation. It is about parents being allowed to have flexible working at
stages of their child’s development.

Q What will happen if organisations pay lip service to the new rights to
work flexibly?

A Firms have a duty to consider the request. This is by no means only
best practice but it is down to the employee to suggest the way they want to
work more flexibly. Employers have to give the request serious consideration.
If they think they can just leave it in the out-tray they will be unpleasantly

The way the right is framed in law is that the employer must have a meeting
with the employee and give a reasoned response. If the employer says no – which
it can do for a range of business reasons – the request must have been
seriously considered. If the employer has just gone through the motions then
that can be tested in an employment tribunal.

Employment tribunals can’t second-guess business decisions. But if the firm
claims it cannot accommodate the request because it can’t find someone else to
work on a Thursday, for example, and it transpires that it has made no attempt
to do that, the tribunal can knock the employer back. That has "teeth".
We shall review it in three years’ time.

Q Will the Employment Bill reduce the number of employment tribunals?

A There are three ways it will actually help to prevent cases going
to tribunal. It will resolve more cases in the workplace because every company,
of whatever size, has to have an internal grievance and disciplinary procedure.
Employers will have to discuss what staff have been accused of with the
employee themselves and allow an appeal. This will ensure many of the cases
will be sorted out.

If the case goes as far as a tribunal, it is far better to have it dealt
with in conciliation. We are saying there should be a compulsory period of

The government is also insisting every employee has a statement of terms and
conditions including grievance and disciplinary procedures. We are really
tightening up on this because it will help keep the number of cases down.
Tribunals often get bogged down on what the terms and conditions are.

Q Why did the government not go through with its initial plans to charge
employees a fee to apply for a tribunal?

A We were talking about a modest fee but there was fierce opposition
to this. People who use the system generally don’t have lots of money and a fee
would discourage them.

Q Should the government be providing more support for Acas?

A Acas will need more money. Charging was going to be a way of
achieving this. We’ve now set up a taskforce to look at the whole question of
funding. It will need more money and that will be addressed in the spending review.

Q How will the Employment Bill affect HR?

A All of this is grits to the mill for HR managers. All the HR
measures developed since the 1980s have helped make this into something more
tangible. The evidence of what this means to a company’s bottom line – how to
increase productivity, reduce wastage, how to increase morale – has been
demonstrated time and time again by HR measures. Senior managers have to
recognise that HR issues are central to the company operating properly.

The Employment Bill: the new measures

– A requirement for employees to raise grievances with employers before
applying to a tribunal

– A fixed period of conciliation to promote timely settlement
of disputes

– A statement of terms and conditions (including grievance and
discipline procedures) for all staff

– A fast track system and other measures to modernise
employment tribunals

– Parents with children under six have the right to ask
employers to consider flexible working

– Two weeks paid paternity leave for working fathers (from
April 2003)

– Six months paid and a further six months unpaid maternity
leave for working mothers (from April 2003)

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