Employers groups have warned that the coalition government’s continued “tinkering” with employment legislation is creating “huge uncertainty” and undermining its goal of encouraging businesses to take on new staff.
The criticism came following the launch of a “modern workplaces” consultation by Business Secretary Vince Cable and Home Secretary Theresa May yesterday, which outlined four key changes to current employment law.
Under the proposals, from 2015, parental leave would be increased by four weeks. If desired, both parents could take their time off together and/or in blocks of weeks or months throughout the year rather than all in one go.
Flexible working rights would also be extended to all personnel, not just those with children or caring responsibilities, and firms would be expected to carry out equal pay audits if they were found guilty of discrimination at a tribunal.
Finally, following recent judgements by the European Court of Justice on the Working Time regulations, changes to which will have to be implemented into UK law, personnel who become sick while on holiday will be able to reclaim their annual leave dates. Those on long-term sick leave will also be able to accrue holiday entitlement.
But David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, was highly critical of the proposed changes. “Our economic recovery is far from secure, but ministers are yet again tinkering with employment legislation. These kinds of laws create huge uncertainty for employers and prevent them from taking on more staff.”
While the government won praise last week when it pledged to streamline costly employment regulations, this latest move showed it was simply “giving with one hand and taking with the other”, he added.
For example, lengthening the amount of time that parents could take as paid leave and inviting them to negotiate on how time should be taken off work with their employers just created “more confusion and costs for business owners”. It was also likely to expose them to “endless appeals, legal challenges and grievances”, Frost warned.
John Walker, national chairman of the Federation of Small Business, agreed. He expressed concern that the government’s plans were an example of “a contradictory approach to regulation”.
“Freeing business from the shackles of regulation is meant to be a key government commitment. Yet only days after announcing the welcomed employment law review, a raft of new employment burdens were announced. It is precisely these types of regulations that will hinder rather than help small firms,” Walker said.