The saga of the Working Time rules continues to grow in complexity. Last
week Personnel Today reported how draft guidance on amendments to the rules
appeared to offer more protection to workers and could mean employers have to
rethink their policy.
This week the CBI’s John Cridland says employers should not worry and that
provided they have employee consent they should be alright.
This may be the case but the question is whether having offered a compromise
to employers through the amendments, the Government has sought to slyly offer a
consolation prize to unions in the guidance. It appears that the Government has
left the way open for aggrieved staff to take cases to tribunal or the HSE.
The upshot is that employers once again find themselves treading a difficult
As with the recent admissions that the Government hadn’t made its mind up
who the Part-Time Work regulations will ultimately apply to, this almost
continual rebalancing of legislation to try to satisfy employers and unions can
only cause confusion. And the likelihood is it won’t be successful anyway.
While in theory we all favour consensus in the formation of workplace
policy, the reality is that sooner or later the Government has to favour the
interests of one group at the expense of the other. Unions want the Working
Time rules to provide cast iron certainties to offer staff protection,
employers want flexibility and exemptions – try to find the Third Way in that
Old Labour understood this division of interests very well, and generally plumped
for the unions. New Labour seems to find it all rather confusing – on the one
hand it is often in thrall to the entrepreneurial spirit of business, but on
the other it is still hit by the pangs of social conscience about workplace
The problem is we are not talking about a party trying to redraft its
election manifesto position, this is a Government in power dealing with live
legislation that affects employers and the wider economy. This endless tipping
of the scales one way and then the other is a serious business and at worst
could mean employers breaking the law by accident.
Is it too much to insist that when the main body of legislation and the
deals and compromises contained in it have been thrashed out, that Labour
sticks to its guns?