According to the press at the weekend, the government is intending to seek to renegotiate our agreements with the EU and return the right to set employment laws to the UK. We want to opt-out of all of this restrictive, gold plated employment law. Two of the Acts that were quoted as being in this particular firing line are those on working time and agency workers. Let’s just look at those two Acts for a moment.
The Working Time Regulations have been with us since 1998. If they were a person then they’d be taking driving lessons and trying to look old enough to get into pubs. Enacted as essentially a piece of Health and Safety legislation, they are all about ensuring appropriate working hours and more importantly, sufficient rest. They require that people take at least a day of every two weeks. That people take a minimum amount of annual leave. That people have proper rest between ending one shift and beginning another. Terrible stuff that.
Then there is the Agency Workers Regulations. A piece of legislation that requires temporary workers to receive the same pay, after a qualifying period, as someone doing the job on a permanent basis. Fancy that! People having the right to be paid the same as someone else doing the same job.
I am being deliberately flippant. Whenever new legislation is proposed and enacted, there is always a crowd of cynics ready to cry that industry as we know it will cease. Jobs will be lost. Businesses will be deterred from taking on staff. Entrepreneurs will shut up shop and go somewhere less regulated instead. It happened when the Equal Pay Act was proposed. It happened too with the WTR. And with the National Minimum Wage. But we are still standing, all the same.
Does anyone really believe that either of these pieces of legislation are damaging industry? If so, where is the evidence? And even if they are… then to a point, so what? There needs to be balance between the needs of organisations and the needs of individuals and wider society. I’d suggest that there are some things that are just as important as labour market flexibility. Like fairness, wellbeing, paying people a living wage, equal treatment, health.
Long working hours contribute to ill-health, mistakes and accidents. Low paid agency work contributes to our already problematic low pay economy, where workers end up relying on the State to make up the difference to a wage they can actually live on via tax credits.
Of course these aren’t the only EU employment directives. There’s a few about equality too, among others. Making sure that people aren’t discriminated against because of their age, their sexual orientation, their race, their disability. Let’s hope no one thinks that we don’t need these, too.