Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 22nd May 2000.

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Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation) 8:30 pm, 22nd May 2000

My Lords, I believe that the Government's measures on part-time work will ensure that Britain's 6 million part-timers are no longer treated as second-class citizens. In response to the last speaker, perhaps I may say that most businesses, particularly in the service area, have been well ahead on this issue for a long time. It is now well appreciated that part-time workers are an absolutely essential and important part of the workforce and therefore should not be treated as second-class citizens. I would argue strongly that an important part of competitiveness is having a part-time workforce who believe that they are treated fairly and not as second-class citizens.

So far as delay is concerned, we took slightly longer than the regulatory right, although we are allowed a slightly longer period. That seemed to me to be correct in terms of getting the regulations absolutely right, and I believe that several other EU members have taken more time in the same way as the UK have done.

So far as concerns the question of casual and agency workers, I believe that there is a misunderstanding as to how the employment status is defined. Some casuals are employees, some are workers, and the same argument applies with regard to agency workers. If we were simply to exclude workers, that would increase enormously the scope for legal action to determine the legal status of individuals.

So far as concerns the written statement, it seems to me to be a simple case of good practice that everyone should be agreed about the facts before legal action is started. If there is a case for objective justification, that should be put down. I cannot believe that that simple process, which would seem to be good practice and potentially could stop legal actions being taken, is in any way harmful.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, raised the rather complicated question of occupational pensions. A decision was taken by the European Court on 16th May that UK legislation, which places a two-year restriction on claims for backdated contributions in respect of occupational pensions, is not compatible with European law. That means that claims for employer contributions from part-timers who were denied access to occupational pension schemes could go back as far as 1976, which was the date of the earlier ECJ ruling. That, of course, is in relation to other rights. So far as concerns this measure, rights begin to accumulate only now. Clearly, this particular point will not impact for two years and we shall review the situation during that period. If it is incompatible with European law, we shall examine that and amend it accordingly.

I believe that the point behind the regulations is that part-time work has become important and will be increasingly important in the years ahead. All businesses knew that the legislation was imminent and had plenty of time to prepare for it. I believe that the Government have set the right framework for a flexible and fair approach to part-time work. I commend the proposals to the House.