CBI's Call For Action In Labour Market Rebuffed by TUC
The CBI today unveiled a package of measures that it suggests will ensure Britain’s labour market is best placed to sustain businesses and jobs during the recovery. The proposals include embracing more flexible working, blocking regulations that will cost jobs and changing industrial relations legislation.
In the new report, Making Britain the Place to Work, the business group highlights the importance of the UK’s flexible labour market and the key role it played in minimising job losses during the recession. It says employers now want to build on that flexibility, which has benefitted businesses and the workforce, by supporting the right to request flexible working to all employees.
On employment law, the CBI wants the Government to introduce a sustainable employment test to ensure that any future employment laws help, rather than hinder, the creation of new jobs.
For industrial action, the CBI is calling for changes to rules around ballots to ensure that industrial action can only go ahead if 40% of the balloted workforce support it, as well as a simple majority of those voting.
In addition, the CBI suggests the consultation period for collective redundancies should be shortened from 90 days to 30 days to reduce uncertainty for staff and allow employers to reshape their workforces swiftly to respond to significant falls in demand.
John Cridland, CBI Deputy Director-General, said:
“As we enter a period of fragile recovery, we need to do everything we can to create a jobs market that works for Britain, and to ensure Britain is the place to work.
“To position the UK for growth, any new employment legislation must pass a simple test of whether it will encourage job creation.
“We also need to look at changing the rules around industrial action. Strikes cause misery. They prevent ordinary people going about their daily lives, whether it’s getting to work or getting the kids to school.
“Strikes also cost the economy dearly and undermine our efforts to help rebuild the economy. That is why we believe the bar needs to be raised, so strike action is not possible unless 40 per cent of the workforce has actively voted to withdraw its labour.”
Looking at the proposals to encourage greater flexibility in the workplace in more detail, the CBI recognises that boosting participation rates and tackling under-representation will play a key role in fostering economic growth. The CBI’s proposals include:
• Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, while ensuring employers have enough time to adapt and are given clear guidance on how to prioritise requests.
• Retaining the individual opt-out from the maximum 48-hour week under the Working Time Directive, which allows staff to choose to work longer hours, for example to earn extra money to support their families.
• Working with the Government to introduce greater flexibility in the sharing of caring responsibilities between parents.
• Making the right to request flexible retirement more effective, rather than simply abolishing the default retirement age when there is not a practical alternative in place. This risks creating problems in the workplace.
The CBI’s measures for positioning the UK for recovery and promoting growth are said to be focused on making sure employment legislation helps firms sustain and create jobs, as well as enabling them to take swift action to respond to changes in demand that will protect the business and job prospects in the longer-term. One key measure is shortening the consultation period for collective redundancies from 90 to 30 days for companies seeking to make more than 100 people redundant. This would bring the requirement in line with the one-month consultation period needed for proposed redundancies of fewer than 100 jobs.
John Cridland added:
“During the recession, many firms had to restructure their businesses to survive. No company takes the decision to let go of staff lightly, but when businesses reach the stage where demand has fallen off a cliff and redundancies are inevitable, dragging out the process over three months just prolongs the agony for employees.
“We believe shortening the consultation period to a month would spare staff from some of this uncertainty, while allowing companies to act quickly to protect the longer-term health of the business.”
Other measures to position the UK for recovery include:
• Introducing a sustainable employment test to block regulations that will cost jobs. All proposals should be subjected to rigorous audit with businesses given the chance to highlight where regulation has been poorly designed and suggest ways to improve them.
• Simplifying rules around the employment of agency workers to ensure existing jobs can be maintained and new posts created.
• Reviewing the implementation of existing EU directives to remove any gold-plating, including of European TUPE rules. Current TUPE laws effectively prevent an employer from harmonising the terms and conditions of a newly-acquired business with its existing workforce. This could mean two employees doing the same jobs but with different holiday and sickness entitlements.
The CBI is calling for:
• A ballot to be held to demonstrate workforce support for trade union recognition. This would replace the current system where the Central Arbitration Committee can automatically grant recognition if it believes union membership is greater than 50%.
• Rules on strike action to be changed to ensure that industrial action has the support of 40% of the balloted workforce, in addition to a majority of votes cast.
• Action to strengthen the tribunal system to make greater use of pre-hearing reviews to weed out weak claims.
A copy of Making Britain the Place to Work is available on the CBI’s website.
Responding to the report, describing the proposals as a “demolition job on the rights at work of their members’ staff – and a charter for exploitation by unscrupulous employers”, the TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, said:
‘The UK already has some of the toughest legal restrictions on the right to strike in the advanced world. The courts regularly strike down democratic ballots that clearly show majority support for action. The number of days lost to industrial action is historically low and less than in many other countries.
‘Any further restrictions would be extremely unfair and almost certainly breach the UK’s international human rights obligations. The new Government’s commitments to civil liberties are welcome, but the CBI seems to think human rights stop at the workplace door.
‘And while we expect the CBI to lobby against rights at work, please spare us the hypocrisy of pretending that a cut in the period for consultation over redundancy is for the benefit of employees. A 30 day period does not provide unions – let alone staff unrepresented by unions – any real chance to develop alternatives or effectively negotiate changes.
‘The CBI’s proposals add up to a demolition job on the rights at work of their members’ staff – and a charter for exploitation by unscrupulous employers. It looks like the CBI’s backwoodsmen are back in the driving seat.’