The Government will today finally bow to Brussels and agree to introduce a European directive granting key rights to five million part-time workers.
The agreement is a setback for Michael Portillo, the Employment Secretary, who as one of the leading Cabinet Eurosceptics has been in the forefront of arguing against labour market regulation in the European Social Affairs Council.
Ministers have abandoned a nine-month attempt to resist a House of Lords judgment and will pave the way for legislation early in the new year to give part-timers the same protection against unfair dismissal and redundancy as full-timers.
Ministers are expected to underline the reluctance with which they have decided to comply with the Lords ruling by restating their view that it could have an adverse impact on part-time jobs by making employers more reluctant to recruit.
Harriet Harman, Labour's employment spokeswoman, last night cited a TUC study showing that part-time work is growing faster in countries with stronger employee rights and benefits than in Britain. She said: "The Government is not simply against minimum standards because of a concern about jobs. It is also clear that it believes insecurity motivates the workforce. This is not what successful businesses believe."
One of the first practical results of the new legislation could be that employers will see fewer economic reasons to employ people on a part-time basis rather than give them a full-time job. The Government, however, will continue to resist additional European provisions which will bring the full range of employment conditions of part-timers into line with those of full-time workers, including holiday entitlements. The new law will mean that part-timers will only enjoy the same rights over dismissal and redundancy.
The Equal Opportunities Commission, which appealed to the Law Lords on the issue following hearings in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, was the prime mover behind the litigation.The commission started legal proceedings against the Employment Department in 1990 on the basis that British law discriminated against part-time workers and was in breach of European legislation. The Law Lords ruled in their favour last March.Reuse content