Fears of backlash against part-timers

Employment reform may lead to redundancies and legal cases rather than extra rights
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The Independent Online

Leading employment lawyers are expecting an influx of cases this autumn following new legislation which attempts to guarantee the same rights and benefits to part-timers that their full-time colleagues enjoy.

Leading employment lawyers are expecting an influx of cases this autumn following new legislation which attempts to guarantee the same rights and benefits to part-timers that their full-time colleagues enjoy.

Less than two months since the EU's Part Time Workers' Directive came into force in the UK, a growing number of employers are questioning if it is possible to comply fully with the new law. They say that job cuts among Britain's 6 million part-timers are now inevitable.

The legislation says that regardless of how many hours you work each week, you are entitled, pro rata, to the same terms and conditions as full-time employees. In other words, a three-day week entitles you to three-fifths of their weekly pay, holiday entitlement, pension contributions and so on.

But, claims the Institute of Directors, the new rules not only add to the burden of red tape already suffered by UK businesses, but may even curb the growth in part-time employment. It believes that would-be employers will be deterred from hiring part-timers by the cost of the pro rata benefits and the likelihood of more costly and time-consuming employment tribunals. IoD members also claim that they haven't been given enough time to comply with the regulations.

While the Government believes the new regulations will cost British firms £14.7m to implement, the John Lewis Partnership claims that "granting all [its] part-timers pay, or time off, in respect of bank holidays and public holidays will amount to £1.2m per year".

David Green, head of employment legislation at the City law firm Charles Russell, believes the area of benefits reform is likely to lead to legal battles with part-time staff - 80 per cent of whom are female - in the months to come.

"While the notion of giving a two-day-a-week employee two-fifths of a company car is already ludicrous enough, the sheer complexity of calculating a private medical insurance package for someone who works 18 hours a week will be problematic," he explains.

Mr Green believes many employers may look harder at the difference between part-time staff and casual workers - who are not covered by the legislation - and may downgrade their employment status rather than risk litigation.

But Claire Birkinshaw, employment solicitor with Abbey Legal Protection, which offers legal services to the Federation of Small Businesses among others, says true casuals are far outweighed by genuine part-timers.

"To be a casual worker," she says, "there must be no 'mutuality of obligation' on the side of the employer or worker, and that is only the case with a small percentage of workers in the UK. But I agree that some employers will clearly be looking to this by whatever means they can."

In the view of Richard Wilson, business policy executive with the Institute of Directors, part-timers will also now become what he calls "a sitting duck" when it comes to redundancy plans. "Fairly or unfairly, many employers faced with wielding the axe will take the view that it is easier to cut the flesh among part-timers," he says, "rather than among the full-time staff with whom they may feel more affinity."

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