Progress towards fair employment, but opposition continues
The European Parliament has voted in favour of the Directive on Equal Treatment of Agency Workers, meaning that agency workers in the UK will now have the right to receive equal treatment to permanent staff after 12 weeks of work with an employer. Roger Helmer, Conservative MEP, reacted to this progress with the following statement:
This is a bad piece of legislation… [It will] deny thousands upon thousands of people the right to work at all … It makes our labour markets less competitive and less flexible. It damages our economies at the very time we can least afford to have them damaged … You could not ask for a clearer example of the way the EU subverts democracy in Member States
But happily his outdated, unsubstantiated and regressive argument has lost. The debate will now shift to the implementation timetable, which could mean that we have to wait several years before UK workers benefit from this protection. Until then unequal treatment goes on – particularly in low-paid sectors.
The political position of both main parties on flexible working is increasingly unclear – the Shadow Families Minister, Maria Miller, has stated that plans should not be abandoned (focusing upon the importance of flexible working preventing family breakdown) but the Tory front bench is less certain. Peter Mandelson has also been peddling the line that the right to request flexible work could somehow push small businesses over the edge – to widespread condemnation from within and outside the Labour party. Interestingly, a strong supporter of Mr Mandelson’s review is Brian Binely, Tory MP for Northampton – who until this week found himself in opposition to both Labour, the Conservatives and the CBI on this issue.
On the up, the CBI has announced that it supports the Citizens Advice call for improved enforcement of employment tribunal awards. There is now an unprecendented level of consensus on the need for action on this issue, which Government needs to recognise.