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Protection of Existing Conditions

Part of Orders of the Day — Sex Discrimination Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 22nd October 1986.

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Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle 6:30 pm, 22nd October 1986

The proposal to require a deposit of £25 to bring an industrial tribunal case is in a recent White Paper, "Building Businesses…Not Barriers". I emphasise that it is only a proposal at this stage and it is not affected by the Bill.

I am glad to say that my right hon. and learned Friend the Paymaster General, who is almost as broad-minded as I am, is with us this evening. He and I have taken on board all the points that have been made by the Opposition. As the Opposition have explained, these amendments will establish new rights for those employees who stand to be affected by the repeals in clauses 7 and 8 of the Bill.

I emphasise that these rights would apply to protected workers however short the period of their employment, whether or not they have reached normal retirement age and however few hours they work each week. These provisions therefore go far beyond the normal protection against unfair dismissal afforded employees by current legislation.

Furthermore, protected workers can carry their rights with them if they change employers, even if they move out of and then back into work which is subject to protected conditions.

It should also be noted that these amendments provide for commencement of the new rights at Royal Assent—not on the dates when the repeal of provisions in clauses 7 and 8 come into operation.

Effectively, the amendments seek to reinstate the provisions of the clause dealing with the protection of existing conditions which was inserted in another place and removed in Standing Committee—although they go in certain respects rather further and are accordingly even less welcome to the Government. The arguments deployed against that clause apply with even greater force in consideration of the amendments.

Fundamentally, we arc opposed to the amendments because in our view the provisions are unnecessary and will certainly have grave and significant drawbacks in their effects on employers. We are not talking only about the two-tier work force as between clerical and shop floor workers, as the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) described it. Employers would have a two-tier work force: those who, in effect, retain the restrictions on hours because they have these new rights and those who do not because they have agreed to specific changes or because they are new recruits who, at the date of the Bill's Royal Assent, were not in jobs subject to the schedule's protected conditions elsewhere. This would significantly decrease an employer's flexibility of operation, increase his administrative costs and impair overall efficiency.

The amendments would effectively mean the retention for protected employees of the whole mass of complex and detailed current restrictions, none of which is particularly suited to today's conditions, and they would continue to operate for many years to come, until the last of the current generation of workers had left the labour market for good — in perhaps 50 years' time. It needs little enough imagination to guess the chaos, confusion and uncertainty for employers and employees in deciding which of the multitude of restrictions governing hours and overtime, meal breaks, starting and finishing times, shifts and night work apply to whom and exactly how.