With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment No. 467, in
schedule 7, page 118, line 3, leave out 'substantial' and insert 'significant'.
Amendment No. 468, in
schedule 7, page 118, line 4, at end insert—
'(3A) An employee shall, in circumstances where a significant change to his working conditions takes place, have the right to take redundancy under the current contract of employment.'.
The amendments are designed to address what might be a couple of anomalies in the area of the schedule that deals with employment and employment rights. I am looking forward to the Under-Secretary's clarification.
I will deal with the three amendments in turn. The first relates to the timeline of the process when someone decides, for reasons set out, that they object to the transfer of employment rights. Paragraph 4(1) states:
''Paragraph 2 does not operate to transfer the rights and liabilities under an individual's contract of employment if, before the transfer takes effect, he informs the transferor or transferee that he objects to the transfer.''
If a person makes a decision to that effect late in the day, immediately prior to a transfer taking place, they would not necessarily enjoy full right of notice. Someone on three months' notice might want to work out their notice period, because many people find it easier to seek new employment from within a workplace than when they have left it and are de facto unemployed.
Clearly the question might be asked: why has that person left it until the last possible moment to take that decision? It may not be they who have delayed. Let me give the Committee a specific example in relation to the establishment of the Health Protection Agency on 1 April. Throughout February and March, I and other hon. Members tabled written questions to Ministers about various aspects of the human resource element of the transfer of staff from previous agencies, such as the Public Health Laboratory Service, to the Health Protection Agency. Ministers will be aware that many of the negotiations on transfers of employment ran right up to the wire. Indeed, I believe that many were not concluded by 1 April when the transfers took place.
It is conceivable that an employee might not be aware until the last possible moment of the nature of the employment that they were being moved to, so they might not be able to give the three months or one month's notice, or whatever the notice period is, before the transfer was due to take place. Given that the majority of employees are probably sitting in the same workplace, an employee who has chosen to give notice rather than stay in employment should be able to remain in that workplace for the full notice period. Amendment No. 466 is designed to make it easier for them to do that. We want such employees to be able to fulfil their notice period.
Amendment No. 467 may appear at first glance to be a small change, but we believe that it is important. It relates to paragraph 4(3) of the schedule, which reads:
''This paragraph is without prejudice to any right of an individual employed by a transferor to terminate his contract of employment if (apart from the change of employer) a substantial change is made to his detriment in his working conditions.''
We want to change the word ''substantial'' to ''significant'', because even a small change in a person's conditions of employment may be significant to them.
Let me give the Under-Secretary a couple of examples. One might be a minor modification to a shift pattern that occurs as a result of making the transfer and bringing two groups together on the same site. For example, a mother might find that even a small change in a shift pattern makes it impossible for her to do the school run. That is one simple example, but there will be a variety of other situations in which a small change to the terms and conditions of employment makes it difficult for a person to continue in that employment. We simply ask that the word ''significant'' be included to reflect individual circumstances, which any independent third party would reasonably judge to be a major change to a person's working conditions. I do not believe that that change would damage the Bill in any way. It may actually help in what I suspect will be unusual circumstances. Should they arise, it is an important change of emphasis, which can help the employee concerned.
The third amendment is more of a probing one, designed to explore the redundancy rights of employees in such a situation. The amendment says:
''An employee shall, in circumstances where a significant change to his working conditions takes place, have the right to take redundancy under the current contract of employment.''
What rights do employees have where they are being transferred from a legacy agency to a new agency? If, in their view, the nature of the job and the working conditions change as a result of that transfer and they can credibly argue that a significant change has taken place, what rights do they have to redundancy? Will the Under-Secretary explain that and set out for us how the employment rights of those people are protected when they make such a transfer?
I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary addressed those points. What is the time line? Do employees have to work out their notice period if they have not been able to give the full notice period before the date of transfer from the old agency to the new? Would he accept the logic of changing ''substantial'' to ''significant'' to strengthen the rights of employees in such a situation? Will he explain the rights of redundancy of people caught up in changes as a result of a move from an old agency to a new one?
Although the intention behind amendments Nos. 466 to 468 is to protect those individuals who are transferring from other bodies to the new commission by ensuring that they are able to take redundancy where a significant change occurs to the detriment of their working conditions, I cannot agree that the amendments are actually necessary. For staff transferring from other bodies to CHAI and the new CSCI, the formal identity of their employer will have changed, but their employment rights and rights to redundancy will remain unchanged, which the Bill makes clear. That means that where individuals had a right to redundancy previously in certain circumstances, they will retain that right in their new job. I am not clear where the problem arises.
The amendments, particularly amendment No. 468, would have the effect that individuals would always have the right to employment in the case of significant change in their working conditions, but would not make it clear what the significant change was considered to be. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell gave an example concerning shift patterns. I suppose that it is reasonable to debate the significance of a change in shift patterns, but what comes to my mind when he talks about that is a factory setting, not the inspectorate that we are dealing with. I cannot see shift patterns having the weight that the hon. Gentleman seeks to give them.
I shall give the Under-Secretary a couple of hypothetical examples of changes that could take place. Let us suppose that the management of CHAI decide to change the pattern of inspections to four days instead of five and to longer hours. That would have an impact on the working hours of the people who work with the inspectorate. Equally, let us suppose that it changed the structure of the inspectorate teams from county to region. That,
again, would have a material impact on the working patterns of those teams. Does the Under-Secretary agree that it is reasonable to imagine that a new management team leading a new agency might decide that such changes should be part of their working arrangements?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am advised that the word ''substantial'' is used in employment law and that ''significant'' would cause difficulties. For example, could someone who was sharing an office with another person when previously they had had an office to themselves say that that was a significant change? The current drafting of the Bill is right and ''significant'' would complicate the matter and cause problems. The current position in the Bill with regard to the individual's existing rights and liabilities is simpler and will ensure that any move to CHAI or CSCI will not be detrimental to the individual's working conditions.
TUPE does not apply to the clause, but people will be transferred on similar principles to those of TUPE. The clause replicates the position under TUPE and meets the hon. Gentleman's point in terms of employment rights, but I must resist the amendments as drafted.
I am happy to accept the Under-Secretary's assurance—I know that he is a man of his word—that ''substantial'' is the word used in employment law and that the Government will not allow a measure to go forward if it would damage employment rights. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.