UK business groups and think tanks have called for major cuts to red tape in order to boost the economy and cut unemployment, suggesting in particular that proposed greater parents’ rights, the national minimum wage and the Agency Workers’ Regulations should be put under the spotlight. The news follows the launch of the government’s Red Tape Challenge earlier this month, which has placed a specific emphasis on employment related regulations. As Naeema Choudry, partner at international law firm Eversheds, comments:

“Work and families was on the UK government’s radar from the beginning of its term in office and the government has consulted on some fairly radical proposals for shared parental leave. It is clear that the Government saw the consultation as the beginning of a cultural change to move away from the current highly gender-based and inflexible approach to parenting. Nonetheless, employers who are struggling to get to grips with the recently introduced rights to additional paternity leave are unlikely to be looking forward to yet another change in this complicated area of employment law and practice. Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees divides employers, with some strongly supportive and others concerned that the extension is a step too far. Concerned employers worry about how to deal with multiple and competing requests when not all can be accommodated.
“The concerns raised also deal with the recent increase in the national minimum wage. Many believe this prices workers out of the market and prevents job creation.

“As for the Agency Workers Regulations, the government dismissed press speculation that there may be last-minute changes to them only days before the Regulations came into force. The government carried out its review of the Regulations last year and then discounted any derailing of the Regulations it inherited. It was always the case that the government was walking something of a political knife edge with these Regulations. If it had any intentions to effect change, one would have thought that it would have done so prior to bringing the Regulations into effect. The reality is that the government has had fairly little room for manoeuvre in the face of a European Directive which must be brought in to force by 5 December 2011 at the latest. Defying Europe, as well as the hard fought deal struck with the trade unions years ago, by rejecting the requirements of the Agency Workers Directive, was never a political reality. Furthermore, despite evident concerns that the regulations “gold-plate” the European requirements, close analysis suggests little opportunity to water them down significantly. As well as being fixed with an implementation date, the government is unable to alter some of the key terminology of the Regulations. For example, the obligation to offer agency workers comparable “basic working and employment conditions” and what that might broadly entail, are derived from the Directive itself and cannot be changed. Even if change is afoot therefore, it seems unlikely it will involve more than tweaks to the Regulations, as opposed to wholesale re-writing

“Since May 2010, BIS has been leading a review of employment laws, so fulfilling one of the government’s stated aims of the Coalition Agreement. Many aspects were clearly on the government’s radar from the outset, including work and families, retirement age and equality. Another key target was the employment tribunal system, as a result of which the government has recently consulted on employment tribunal reform and has announced its intention to restrict the right to claim unfair dismissal to employees with two or more years’ service (currently employees only need one year’s service to bring a claim). An employers’ poll conducted by Eversheds earlier this year revealed that employers were doubtful as to whether an increase of the qualifying period would meet the stated aim of giving businesses more confidence to recruit. However, the proposal did find favour for other reasons, for example, in our survey of more than 600 employers, 78 per cent believed that raising the qualifying period would result in a drop in tribunal claims.
“The government has also pledged to look at collective redundancy consultation periods, TUPE and compensation for discrimination awarded by employment tribunals.”