Government aims to modernise workplaces

The Government has announced proposals intended to make flexible working that much more effective.

Part of the plans include a significant overhaul of the rules governing shared parental leave.

But the proposals also look to extend the right to ask for flexible working to all workers, provided they have been with an employer for a minimum of 26 weeks.

Currently, the right is restricted to those employees with children aged 17 or under.

The Government is to examine the advantages of publishing a statutory Code of Practice on flexible working for businesses and will propose that employers should be allowed to take into account employees individual circumstances when considering conflicting requests.

There are no plans to alter the current eight business reasons for a business to turn down a request for flexible working.

On equal pay, employment tribunals that have found an employer to have discriminated on gender in relation to pay will be obliged to order the employer to conduct a pay audit and publish their results.

Amendments to the Working Time Regulations will see changes that allow annual leave entitlements to be rescheduled, and carried over to the next leave year, when a worker falls ill during planned annual leave. This will be limited to the four weeks of Working Time Directive leave.

The Government likewise plans to amend the WTR to allow the carry-over of annual leave due to maternity, paternity, parental or adoption leave. This will include the full 5.6 weeks of leave entitlement per year.

The changes, which are going out to consultation, are also investigating the possibilities of giving businesses greater flexibility around annual leave, enabling them, for example, to buy out untaken leave and to carry over leave on justifiable business grounds (this would only apply to the 1.6 weeks of domestic statutory leave).

David Frost, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, expressed disappointment at the measures.

He said: “The proposal to extend the right to request flexible working would replace current regulations with a code of practice, but we question whether this will make any real difference. In fact, it could just cause more confusion.

“Introducing automatic equal pay audits will not deliver real progress on equal pay. A bureaucratic and one-size-fits-all approach will mean many companies will be forced to go through a pointless exercise that does benefit their business or employees.

“Plans to amend Working Time regulations to reflect recent European rulings will only cause more confusion for employers, while creating extra costs. The Government could have waited for more clarity from Brussels, where this issue is currently being debated, and avoided an immediate impact on business confidence. Instead, their actions could mean two sets of confusing changes rather than one.”

The new measures could well become part of employment law by 2013.

The consultation can be found at http://discuss.bis.gov.uk/modernworkplaces/

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