Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill: Employment: Ministers fight shy of relaxing rules on safety

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THE GOVERNMENT fought shy of radical deregulation of health and safety at work.

However, under changes announced yesterday the system of licensing for employment agencies is to be ended under the Bill.

Instead there will be powers to stop companies providing such services if they infringe statutory requirements. Inspectors would still police the system.

There are to be some changes to health and safety legislation to make it easier to repeal 'obsolete' regulations.

It will be made easier for employers to make people redundant and the 'unnecessarily restrictive' arrangements governing an employer's choice in selecting someone for redundancy will be changed, although the Government said it would still offer employees 'protection' in the event of unfair dismissal.

The expected proposals to abolish key health and safety regulations in order to sweep away restrictions on businesses failed to materialise. Instead ministers have promised to consult the Health and Safety Commission and other 'appropriate' organisations on the need to do away with red tape.

The Government has been persuaded by confidential submissions from the Health and Safety Executive and elsewhere that radical deregulation would inevitably result in a steep increase in industrial


Unions yesterday privately expressed relief that the Bill failed to match the rhetoric of the Conservative Party conference in October.

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union, accused ministers of a significant U-turn in abandoning the proposals. He warned, however, that unions would be watching the Bill very closely. 'If there is any proposal which threatens safety we will be banging on ministers' doors demanding retraction.'

The unions were also unhappy about the plan to make it possible for employers to override agreements and select who they wished for redundancy. The Government argued that employers should have the ability to adapt to circumstances.

Brendan Barber, the new deputy general secretary of the TUC, said: 'That is just another kick in the teeth for good industrial relations.'

He said the Bill was 'ideologically motivated' and failed to address the real problems of working people. 'Trade unionists are as keen as anyone to see the removal of unnecessary regulations. But most regulations were introduced for a purpose, usually to provide protection for the public and workers. They should be removed only when they fail to fulfil that purpose.'