The ‘vote leave’ campaigners have earned considerable media inches and hours about the benefits to GB businesses from no longer being part of the European legal system. On Radio 4 this week a Brexit campaigner spoke about the complexity of the Working Time Directive and how joyous life would be if it were to be scrapped. Which it won’t be.
Think of the laws that have caused so much irritation to employers. National Living Wage? That was the UK, not Europe. Shared Parental Leave? UK – Nick Clegg’s baby, nothing to do with Europe. TUPE? UK decision to ‘gold plate’ the European Acquired Rights Directive to apply it to the transfer of service contracts – unique to the UK. Collective consultation obligations? That’s all tied up under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992…which is….you guessed it, UK specific. Flexible working regulations applicable to all? UK. Again. Maternity leave? By now you know the answer, UK maternity leave is typically much more generous than mainland Europe, and that is not going to change by a Brexit.
The point is that whichever way you look at it, most of the irritation from employment law has been self-inflicted injury, nothing to do with Europe. Even the much maligned Working Time Regulations allows us (and 14 other nations) an opt-out from the most troublesome bits. Yes if you’re in road transport it’s a bit more complicated, but we’ve got used to it, and changes to it are pretty unlikely…unless of course it’s replaced by a UK directive on Working Time, which no doubt will be pretty similar to the existing European one.
The remainder of the Working Time Directive, using that as an example, concerns holidays and breaks etc. Holidays have already been gold plated by UK legislators – the minimum is 20 days paid in holiday in Europe, it’s 28 in the UK. There is simply no will or appetite from any political party to denigrate conditions for UK workers. It would be wrong, and political suicide.
Let me expound the argument to neutralise employment law as a factor a little further. The UK is already a flexible place to employ people, much more so than the European nations the Brexit campaign wants to cut loose. Here we have 5 fair categories for dismissing employees (in most of Europe there are only 1 or 2 fair reasons and in some cases it’s near impossible to dismiss employees.) The reality is it’s not going to get any easier, or more difficult, to employ people (or dismiss them) in the UK if we leave Europe. There may be other reasons to leave Europe, but employment law is not one of them.
Why then has so much airtime been given to the topic of employment law? In my opinion UK employers are wrongly distressed at the lack of flexibility employment law affords them to deal with employee issues. European directives may be a convenient scape goat but it is only that. The real culprit is a lack of confidence driven by poor advice available to employers. And no wonder, with the largest ‘HR provider’ supporting approaching 30,000 small businesses. Their employer’s helplines are generally as helpful as a rat in a trifle. But their marketing whizzkids have convinced their customers and many more that employment law is an ogre and one that needs hefty insurance to control. And that we can blame it on those blasted legislators in Brussels.
Claims to tribunals are rarer than these scaremongers will have you believe, and the advice provided by the insurers in order to maintain any ‘protection’ is often so risk averse as to be useless to the employer. Far too many small employers who rely on these policies for employment advice are failing to deal with eminently resolvable issues to the detriment of their own businesses and the economy as a whole.
By having access to genuinely experienced HR practitioners (not the call centre staff employed by the insurers masquerading as HR companies) the vast majority of employee issues can be successfully resolved. myHRdept provides a small team of highly experienced advisors to help our customers achieve precisely that. When the rest of the ‘HR industry’ behaves as we do, there will perhaps be less fear of employment law in the UK. As ever, the fear is far more damaging than the actual risk.
Bill Larke was HR Director UK Operations at Coca-Cola Enterprises. Today he supports smaller businesses via myHRdept.co.uk in their mission to create stable, rewarding and profitable businesses.
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