Part-Time rules open to eleventh-hour rejig

The Government will leave employers in the dark about which staff will be
covered by the incoming Part-Time Work regulations until the last minute.

Draft regulations on the law – which comes into effect just a month from
today – will cover only those on standard employment contracts, excluding large
swathes of workers employed on temporary contracts, through agencies or on a
freelance basis.

But the Government admitted last week that this might change at the eleventh
hour.

DTI minister Alan Johnson told the Employment Sub-committee last Wednesday
that "a powerful case" for broadening the catchment area had been put
forward in consultation and the Government was considering its position.

The TUC is demanding that the legislation covers the broader category of
"workers" rather than "employees", giving it the same scope
as the Minimum Wage and Working Time regulations.

Johnson said the Government will not make its decision known until the
regulations are published in their final form.

The DTI confirmed that this will happen sometime this week, but the law
comes into force on 7 April, giving companies less than a month to comply.

Employers warn this is unrealistic and will give far too little time to
sectors which employ large numbers of staff on non-standard contracts if the
scope of the law is extended.

Robert Ingram, HR director at Cap Gemini, said, "There are a lot of
freelancers, independents and subcontractors in our industry. If they are
brought within the law we will certainly need more than a month to work out how
they are affected. I don’t see how the law could be applied because a lot of
those people are working for several different companies."

Elaine Aarons, head of employment law at Eversheds, London, said employers
will be open to legal action as the law will be in force before they have had
time to make the necessary changes.

Robbie Gilbert, chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Statute and
Practice, said, "We have been here before. The Government has had two
years to work this through. It must make use of the time scales provided by EU
legislation to solve these problems in advance if it expects law to be properly
implemented."

The indecision over what constitutes a part-time employee is yet another
example of the Government’s poor record on implementing labour law, which the
EFSP-Personnel Today campaign seeks to improve.

By Dominique Hammond

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