Government quells employer fears over paid time off to train

The government has moved to calm fears that businesses would have to foot the bill if they granted employees time off for training.

Under new proposals outlined last week, from 2010, employees will be entitled to request time off work for training after six months in a job. Speaking exclusively to Personnel Today, skills minister David Lammy said: “Employers would not be obliged to pay an employees’ salary while they were undertaking training, or to organise or pay for the training, but we would expect many to choose to do so.”

Lammy said the new system would work in much the same way as the current right to request flexible working, whereby employers can turn down requests if there is a good business reason for doing so, or where the training would not improve business performance. Outstanding disputes would eventually be resolved by employment tribunals, he confirmed.

But some employers’ groups, including the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, expressed concern that employers might lose the power to turn down requests.

Skills adviser John McGurk said: “Training must contribute to meeting the business needs of the employer. If this test is not met, the employer must be able to decline requests for training.”

Lammy said he hoped the new right would encourage the third of UK employers that don’t offer training to staff to do so, and estimated about 300,000 people a year would benefit. “There is a whole suite of training available across 25 sector skills councils, which can help make businesses more productive,” he said.

Employers invest an estimated £38bn in training every year. But government officials expressed concern last week that cash set aside to help firms improve skills had been transferred elsewhere because it was unused. About £115m from the flagship Train to Gain programme was switched to other skills schemes.

The CBI said too much red tape, lack of flexibility, and the patchy quality of advice from skills brokers was to blame.

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