On 9 March the Government issued a consultation paper and draft regulations detailing its proposals for new statutory protection for fixed-term employees. The consultation is due to finish on 31 May and regulations must be in force to implement the EC Directive on Fixed Term Working in UK law by 10 July. Fixed-term employees work under a contract of employment which is fixed for a term in advance or which has a specified end-date.
Aims of the regulations
The regulations are intended to prevent less favourable treatment of fixed-term employees against comparable permanent staff and to prevent the abuse of successive renewals of contracts. The draft regulations contain the following rights for fixed-term employees:
- The right to be notified by the employer of any suitable alternative vacancies (ie, non-fixed term) that may arise
- The right not to be treated less favourably than a comparable non-fixed term employee engaged in the same or broadly similar work, either in connection with terms and conditions of employment or being subject to detriment. The less favourable treatment may be defended on the grounds of objective justification, and
- A fixed-term employee who suspects less favourable treatment can ask for a written statement of reasons for that treatment.
A breach of the regulations will entitle an employee to complain to an employment tribunal to obtain the usual raft of remedies; namely a declaration of rights, a recommendation that the employer take remedial action or compensation based on loss.
If an employee has been working for four years or more under a series of fixed-term contracts, the employee’s contract will be deemed by law to become an indefinite contract and any attempt to fix the term will be void. This new provision is intended to address “real abuses” of fixed-term contracts. This new four-year provision will not be retrospective and any continuity of employment before the regulations come into force will not count. Whether four years is appropriate is one of the key questions on which the Government is consulting.
Unfair dismissal waivers in fixed-term contracts were made unlawful by the Employment Relations Act 1999.