Government denies press reports of plans to drop ‘costly’ employment law changes

The government has insisted that legislation extending maternity rights or aimed at increasing diversity in the workplace will not be scrapped, despite the added cost to business during the recession.

Newspapers reported today that costly new laws, championed by women’s minister Harriet Harman, were under threat after business secretary Peter Mandelson and chancellor Alistair Darling called for a moratorium on any plans that would add extra expenses to business during the economic downturn. These included enhancing maternity leave and making sure that firms bidding for government contracts published equality statistics.

In a confidential memo leaked at the Economic Development ministerial committee last week, ministers were asked to “advise on a moratorium on legislation and legislative announcements made but not yet implemented that will entail additional costs for businesses”.

But a spokeswoman at Harman’s department, the Government Equalities Office, told Personnel Today: “The Equality Bill is going ahead as planned. Fairness will not be put on the back burner when times get tough. The Equality Bill will streamline and strengthen the law, replacing nine major pieces of legislation, making it easier for people and businesses to know their rights and obligations. It is due to be introduced in to Parliament in the spring.”

Meanwhile a Department for Business spokesman said: “The government is completely committed to its ambitious agenda of reforming regulation and maintaining essential protections. Of course it is right that in the current downturn we look closely at the cost on business and timing of new regulations. But there is no gutting of the legislative programme.”

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