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CBI calls for new approach to employment law

25 July, 2011

The CBI today (Monday) called on the Government to fundamentally rethink its approach to employment law in order to bolster workplace flexibility and foster better employment relations.

Launching its first ever digital report Thinking Positive: the 21st century employment relationship, produced in collaboration with Hays, the CBI explores how the employment relationship has changed, becoming even more flexible.

The report includes video interviews with employees and staff on the benefits of good communication and flexibility, and looks at how this helped minimise private sector job losses during and post-recession.

Now the CBI says the Government should build on the success of workplace relations forged during the recession by embedding this flexible approach into future employment law and in its Employment Law Review. Rather than automatically opting for legislation, in most cases the Government should specify what it is trying to achieve and set out suggested processes in more flexible guidance or codes of practice. With much of our employment law coming from Europe, this approach should also be applied to EU directives.

So far, the Government has given some welcome signals on reducing regulation and is looking at ways of improving the tribunals system. But it has also introduced policies that have reduced flexibility, including abolishing the Default Retirement Age without addressing the need for employers to have protected conversations about retirement plans and failing to review the Agency Workers Directive, which has been gold plated to include extra process costs for employers, not required under European law.

John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said:

“Traditionally when making employment law governments have tried to specify every last detail of what should go on in the workplace.

“With a strong base of employment rights already in place, we simply don’t need the state telling us how to manage every aspect of basic human relations.

“The Government should adopt a simpler approach to future employment law, one which maximises choice for employers and staff and plays up the strengths of our flexible labour market.

“Good communication helped companies and employees work together to make difficult changes to working patterns to get through the recession. These lessons are particularly important now the public sector is facing similar challenges as a result of measures to cut the deficit.”

Commenting on the benefits of greater workplace flexibility for staff, Alistair Cox, Chief Executive of Hays plc, added:

“Flexibility is a key ingredient in driving future economic growth in the UK. It is also a key aspect that more and more professionals look for in their lives and careers, particularly at a time when we want to encourage employers to invest and create more jobs, despite today’s economic uncertainty.

“Juggling their work commitments around other commitments in their busy lives is increasingly important to people, so giving them the opportunities to benefit from flexible working practices is key.

“Endless red tape and legislation prevents employers and employees from being able to capitalise on the vast number of benefits that flexible working offers. It is time these constraints are removed so that we can get more people into worthwhile work.”

Highlighting the benefits of workplace flexibility, interviewees in the report made the following comments about their companies:

Martin Warren, Practice Group Head of Eversheds, said:

“The lesson so far is that both sides have looked for increased flexibility to work out solutions to save jobs.”

Doug McIldowie, group director of Human Resources at GKN, commented on how managers and unions worked together to agree wage freezes and to implement temporary short-time working across its global operations, which taken together was the equivalent of 2,500 staff.

“Those people are still working with us today. They went through a lot of pain but they are still working for the company and are back to working normally.”

Frank Duffy, senior union representative at GKN, added:

“If we hadn’t signed up to the short-time working agreement I think we would have certainly lost more jobs.”

Charles Logan, Director at Hays, said:

“Employees want to have more flexibility in work and life. For instance, a large number of technical and skilled people don’t want full-time employment and want to work in a self-employed environment. The want to have flexible work patterns and are happy to negotiate the terms they wish to work on.”

Stephen Dando, Chief Human Resources Officer, at Thomson Reuters, said:

“Flexibility is increasingly important to people. There is a good degree of flexibility in the way people work here.”

Vance Kearney, European vice president for human resources at Oracle, commented:

“The key word for employment today is flexibility and it’s being demanded on both sides.”

A digital copy of Thinking Positive: the 21st century employment relationship can be viewed here.

Note to Editors:

The CBI is the UK's leading business organisation, speaking for some 240,000 businesses that together employ around a third of the private sector workforce. With offices across the UK as well as representation in Brussels, Washington, Beijing and Delhi, the CBI communicates the British business voice around the world.

About Hays:

Hays plc is the leading global specialist recruitment group. It is market leader in the UK and Australia, and one of the market leaders in Continental Europe. As at 31 December 2010, the Group employed 7,086 staff operating from 257 offices in 30 countries across 17 specialisms.

Media Contacts:

CBI Press Office on 020 7395 8239 or out of hours pager on 07623 977 854.
Claire Fowler, Head of PR at Hays, on 020 7259 8821 or Claire.s.fowler@hays.com

Follow the CBI on Twitter at: www.cbi.org.uk/twitter.

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