Select Committee on Education and Employment First Special Report

Second Report: Part-Time Working (HC 346)

Second Report:  Part-Time Working (HC 346)

Published: 23 March 1999

Government Reply: Third Special Report, Session

 1998-99 (HC 609)

Published: 29 June 1999


Government Response

Further Government Action

While we accept that differences in societal norms exist between European states and that the scope for importing wholesale policies which are in operation elsewhere may be limited, we recommend that the Government actively consider different models of regulations and agreements covering part-time work to assess their appropriateness to the UK, particularly in the light of the implementation of the Directive on Part-time Work.

The Government will be keeping track of how other Member States implement the Directive. However, while we believe it is right to legislate to protect part-time workers from less favourable treatment, we do not believe that part-time work should be encouraged by special schemes or government subsidies.

The Government implemented the Part-time Work Directive on 1 July 2000. Regulations introduced the right for part-timers not to be treated less favourably in their terms and conditions than comparable full-timers, unless different treatment is objectively justified.

We are persuaded that as a matter of social justice and fairness, that there can be no justification for treating an employee differently simply on the basis of the number of hours worked. Therefore, in this report we welcome the introduction of the Directive on Part-time Work and make proposals for its effective implementation, while recognising that its impact on the employment market trends is uncertain. We would draw the Government's attention to the range of differing views that were expressed to us about the labour market effects of the implementation of the Directive on Part-time Work and we recommend that the Government publish a review of the effect of the Directive on the labour market and pattern of part-time employment two years after it is implemented.

The Government will take the Committee's comments into account when implementing the Directive. We will be monitoring the labour market effect of the Directive through regular surveys and statistics, and will consider if there is a need for further work in the light of these. However, we think that two years may be an insufficient time for labour market effects of the Directive to become evident.

The Government plan comprehensive evaluation and monitoring of the whole of its programme of employment relations legislation.

The following actions are in-hand or planned in respect of the Part-time Workers Regulations:

In 2000/01

We will track Labour Force Survey data on part-time employees (not just numbers, but also trends in earnings, take up of training etc).

The Employment Tribunal Service is monitoring tribunal applications where the regulations are identified as a factor.

To Spring 2003

We will conduct a more sophisticated 'before and after' study of differences between part-time and full-time employees using LFS or other survey data. First results expected not before 2002.

Tribunal applications will continue to be monitored

Impact on employers—costs/ benefits, changes to personnel practices etc. will be studied through surveys and/or case studies.

Beyond 2003

A new Workplace Employee Relations Study. Results can be expected at the end of 2004.

The Government has also argued that one of the keys to achieving a better gender balance in the workforce is to "encourage family friendly employment practices, such as flexible working arrangements, term-time working and part-time working". The Committee welcomes this approach and urges the Government and the social partners to make it central to their employment policy.

The Government agrees with the Committee on the importance of family friendly practices, and we have an ongoing programme to promote these to UK business. As well as implementing the Part-Time Work Directive, the programme includes the parental and maternity measures in the Employment Relations Bill. We are also running a promotional campaign to raise awareness of the business benefits of family-friendly employment practices.

The Government has continued to promote work-life balance policies. The DfEE has launched the Work-life balance campaign and is working in partnership with Employers for Work Life Balance to raise employers' awareness of the business benefits through advice and guidance, research and the new work-life balance Challenge Fund.

The Government's review of maternity pay and parental leave, Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice, is looking particularly at the requirements of parents seeking to balance work and family responsibilities.

The Committee supports the development of new and flexible working practices which will contribute to meeting operational needs. However, we believe that there is a need to balance such flexibility with measures to promote security of employment and also to ensure that part-time workers are not discriminated against or treated unfavourably.

The Government agrees with the Committee on this point. The desire to achieve a balance between flexibility and security informs all the current Fairness at Work agenda. We will implement the Part-Time Work Directive to ensure that part-time workers are not less favourably treated.

The Part-time Workers Regulations have raised the status of part-time working. The regulations ensure that part-timers enjoy equal treatment in comparison with their full-time colleagues, unless different treatment can be objectively justified.

We believe that the Working Time Regulations will increase the awareness within business of the need to curb excessive working hours and we welcome their introduction.

The Government welcomes the Committee's endorsement of the Regulations. They form an important part of the Government's project to create a flexible labour market underpinned by minimum standards. They provide protection to the most vulnerable workers against working excessive hours and give them the right to the sorts of entitlements, such as rest breaks and paid annual leave, enjoyed by the majority of workers in the UK.

Nothing further

The Committee believes that the status and working conditions of part-time work must be improved if occupational segregation by gender is to be broken down; this is essential to promoting equal opportunities. Therefore, we urge the Government to ensure the effective implementation of the Directive on Part-time Work.

The Government agrees that the status of part-time work needs to be improved. We intend to implement the Directive in a way which will help achieve this, and will be taking the Committee's report into account when drawing up the regulations. All members of the Committee will receive a copy of the consultation document, and the Secretary of State would welcome any further comments they may have.

The Part-time Workers Regulations have raised the status of part-time working. The regulations ensure that part-timers enjoy equal treatment in comparison with their full-time colleagues, unless different treatment can be objectively justified.

But whatever the extent is of part-time working within a particular sector or industry, we do not believe that there is any justification in principle for the differential treatment of part-time workers, although we did receive evidence that there may be increased costs, particularly increased training costs, associated with employing part-time workers. We would also urge employers to give serious consideration to whether more flexible working patterns could be introduced for those employees who want them.

The Government would echo this recommendation. We believe that more employers could benefit from introducing flexible working practices, and that part-time workers could be used more widely than they are at the moment. The part-time work code of practice to be issued with the regulations will give employers guidance on how to make the best use of part-time working. This will be reinforced by the Government's strategy on promoting family-friendly employment policies more generally.

The Part-time Workers Regulations protect employers by allowing different treatment of part-timers if an employer can demonstrate that different treatment is necessary and appropriate to achieve a legitimate business objective.

The Government is encouraging employers to give serious consideration to requests for flexible working through the Best Practice guide on the regulations, and the importance of flexible working patterns is highlighted in, for example, the Work-Life Balance campaign.

The Committee believes that the barriers to voluntary part-time and flexible working at senior levels in organisations and in professional jobs may be a waste of expensively acquired skills in both the public and private sectors. We urge employers and government departments to examine their employment practices to see whether greater voluntary flexibility could be introduced, whether there are opportunities for job sharing, how greater status could be accorded to part-time work and how to ensure that employees working part-time are still able to secure their career development and to be considered equally for promotion.

The Government agrees that more organisations should consider increasing part-time and flexible working at senior levels. This would have benefits for individual organisations as well as for the economy as a whole. The code of practice on part-time work will encourage employers to consider this.

Government Departments are encouraged to look favourably at requests for part-time work, including from senior Civil Servants, and part-time working is not a barrier to career development. The level of part-time working in the senior Civil Service has gone from 0.4 per cent in 1984 to 3.2 per cent in 1998. Cabinet Office is currently working on setting up a job-share/part-time database, which will make it easier for senior Civil Servants to find part-time posts.

The Government is encouraging part-time opportunities in skilled and managerial positions though the Best Practice guide.

The Civil Service is striving to be an exemplar employer. Part time working is increasing annually and a new strategic plan to increase flexible working has the support of the Head of the Home Civil Service.

We recommend that the government should institute a wide-ranging research programme aimed at determining the incidences of long working and its consequences for workers and workplace productivity.

The Government notes this recommendation. However, there is already much information available on this, particularly on the incidence of long hours. Any further research would have to be carefully targeted.

The Government proposes a survey of workers with regard to The Working Time Regulations. Topics to be investigated include whether individuals have opted out of the 48 hour limit on the working week, whether they are covered by a workforce agreement and whether night workers have been offered health assessments.

A survey of enforcement of the regulations by Local Authorities and the Health and Safety Executive is currently being carried out.

However, we believe that there is a need to strengthen the rights of women in this area. There should be a presumption that women will be allowed to return to work after maternity leave on a part-time basis, with pay and benefits no less favourable, mutatis mutandis, than those which they were receiving before they took maternity leave. We recommend that the Government introduce legislation guaranteeing women the right to return to work after maternity leave on a part-time basis, while retaining their right to transfer to full-time work, unless the employer is able to demonstrate that it would be to the detriment of the operation of the employer's business.

Employers already have to consider requests carefully and may be unlawfully discriminating on grounds of sex if they refuse to allow a mother to return part-time without justification. A statutory right to part-time work would be going beyond what the social partners agreed in the Part-Time Work Directive. However, the forthcoming code of practice on part-time work will make it easier for all workers to change their hours of work by setting out criteria for employers to consider. This will also help employers decide if a job can be done part-time, and so will help spread part-time working to sectors where it is not traditionally available.

A special provision has been included in the regulations allowing a worker switching to part-time hours or returning part-time after a period of absence, to compare their terms and conditions with their previous full-time contract. This will especially help women returning part-time after maternity leave.

The Best Practice Guide encourages employers to give consideration to requests to switch from full-time to part-time hours with particular reference to women returning after maternity leave.

The review of maternity pay and parental leave, Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice, is looking specifically at barriers to women returning to work after maternity leave, and part-time return.

The Labour Force Survey is an invaluable source of data for many people and is often extremely useful in guiding and informing the work of this Committee. However, we believe that the data will be even more useful if the questions relating to work hours preferences were to be modified so as to record more precisely people's reasons for choosing to work part-time rather than full time and the reasons why they might want to increase or decrease their working hours.

There has already been some work done on this, which suggests that the survey is not missing any major categories. However, this will be kept under review.

The Government plans to introduce a new question into the Labour Force Survey from 2001. The question will probe reasons for workers not wanting to work full-time.

The Government has proposed that employers should require employees to be members of occupational schemes, subject to the right of employees to opt out. We welcome this proposal, but recommend that the opt-out provision take into account the fact that, for many part-time workers, occupational schemes will not be an effective means of pension provisions.

The Government notes the Committee's recommendation. Although most employees will benefit from joining an occupational pension scheme we recognise that there will be some employees who will be better off making other arrangements. For this reason our proposal to permit employers to require their employees to join an occupational pension scheme includes provision for employees to opt out. We are now considering how best to proceed in the light of comments received. We expect to make further announcements later this year.

We are still considering what may be done to encourage occupational pension scheme membership.

We welcome the Government's proposals for the State Second Pension, which will assist many part-time workers, who make up a large proportion of the low paid.

The Government welcomes the Committee's positive response to its proposals for the Second State Pension, which will deliver significant improvement in the pensions of low earners and, as the Committee recognises, this will benefit many part-time workers.

Nothing further

We recommend that the Government examine ways in which the disincentive for employees to reduce their working hours as they approach retirement presented by the operation of occupational pension schemes might be removed, for example by basing the final pension on an individual's salary in their final years of full-time work.

The Government notes the Committee's recommendation. As the Committee acknowledges, some schemes do make use of the flexibility available in the tax rules to avoid creating a disincentive to work fewer hours in the final years of employment. However, employers are not obliged to provide occupational pension schemes and imposing additional restrictions on the way in which benefits in salary-related schemes are calculated may discourage employers from making any provision at all.

Nothing further

We recommend that the Government examine ways in which a partial retirement scheme might be introduced in the UK.

The Government notes the Committee's recommendation. It is already possible for those with personal pensions to start to draw benefits from age 50, even if they continue to work. In principle the Government wishes to extend this to members of occupational pension schemes so that they can draw part of their pension benefits from age 50 without having to retire from the employment to which the pension relates. In order to allow pension schemes to offer this option, certain changes to pension legislation will be required and we are currently considering what changes we will need to make.

We have introduced changes to this legislation in the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000. Negotiations are currently taking place with the pensions industry on the detail of how this flexibility could operate.

We welcome assurances from the Government that the new entry level for National Insurance contributions will not become the new threshold for contributory benefits for existing or future claimants.

The Government notes the Committee's comments on this.

Nothing further

We therefore welcome the Government's announcement that Maternity Allowance is to be extended to women who earn between £30 and the Lower Earnings Limit, which is currently set at £66.

We note the Committee's endorsement of our plans to extend maternity benefits to the low paid. However, mothers-to-be cannot be compared with people who are sick. Women having babies have no choice but to take time off work. Their situation is special, and this is underlined by the fact that they are entitled to 14 weeks maternity leave from their jobs (soon to be increased to 18). Statutory Sick Pay is already available to many part-time workers. The current lower earnings limit represents around 18 hours work at the National Minimum Wage.

The Government has extended Maternity Allowance for women expecting babies on or after 20 August 2000. Women earning at least £30 a week may claim Maternity Allowance.

We therefore recommend that those who earn below the Lower Earnings Limit should be entitled to receive Statutory Sick Pay at a rate equivalent to their actual rate of pay.

See above

Nothing further

The Employment Relations Bill sets out arrangements for the incorporation of training as one of the collective consultation rights. Under these arrangements a recognised trade union will consult about an employer's policy on training at least every six months and review the employer's plans for training during the intervening periods. As we have already stated, training is an area where part-time workers are significantly disadvantaged, and we commend the Government for taking this step. We also recommend that the Government ensure that, in pursuing its policies for lifelong learning, it take full account of the position of part-time workers and their ability to access training.

The Government recognises that part-time workers can be disadvantaged in access to training. While transforming learning in the workplace is primarily for employers and employees to achieve, the Government will support their efforts by lifting barriers to learning, promoting high standards and improving the quality of support available to businesses and individuals. The position of part-timers will be considered in all the Government's policies.

The Part-time Workers Regulations ensure that part-timers are not treated less favourably in their terms and conditions of employment than comparable full-timers, unless different treatment is justified on objective grounds. This means that to comply with the law, employers should not exclude part-timers from training simply because they work part-time. Also, training should be scheduled so far as possible so that staff, including part-timers, can attend.

The Best Practice Guide recommends that training should be arranged so as to ensure that it is conveniently located and timed for part-timers, unless it is not possible.

The lifelong learning campaign encourages employers to provide equal access to training for their part-time employees. Where employers are seeking Investors in People recognition, assessors look at equal opportunities issues including the issue of equal access to training.

The Committee welcomes the Directive on Part-time Work, but we are aware that the manner in which the Directive is transposed into UK law will be crucial to its effectiveness.

The Government wishes to ensure effective implementation of the Directive, and will be consulting widely before finalising the regulations and code of practice. The Government will take the Committee's report into account when implementing the Directive.

The Regulations came into force on 1 July 2000.

The legislation which will transpose the Directive on Part-time Work into UK law must seek to overcome the limitations of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act. However, we are concerned that, if the Directive on Part-time Work is transformed in its basic form it will be no more effective, and in some areas less effective than existing legislation.

The Part-time Work Directive will make it easier for women, and men, to challenge unfair treatment. We do not wish to undermine existing protection, and will be drawing on experience of existing legislation in order to overcome any limitations.

The Part-time Workers Regulations provide protection for all part-timers for the first time. The previous legal position was complicated and did not protect male part-timers, or women part-timers in a workforce that is equally split or contains more men part-timers than women. The regulations close this loophole, making life simpler for employers and part-time employees and workers alike.

We believe that a wide definition of "worker" is within the spirit of the Framework Agreement and strongly recommend that the Government uses a definition of "worker" similar to the one contained in the National Minimum Wage Act, in the legislation which transposes the Directive on Part-time Work into UK law.

The details of implementation, including definitions, will be a matter for consultation.

The Government took into account responses made to the public consultation, as well as the views of the Committee, and has, in this instance, extended the coverage of the regulations to 'workers'. This will ensure that all of the UK's 6 million part-timers are protected from unfair treatment at work.

In general we believe that part-time casual workers should have the same access to benefits as full-time workers once they have been employed by their employer for thirteen weeks. This is in line with the agreements under the Working Time Regulations. An employer wishing to exclude casual workers from specific benefits should be required to show that the decision to exclude corresponds to a real need on its part, is appropriate with a view to achieving that objective and is necessary to that end.

The Working Time Regulations do not have a definition of casual workers, and the thirteen week qualifying period applies only to annual leave. Whether the part-time work regulations exclude casuals, and if so, what definition is used, will be matters for consultation later this year. Any exclusion must be objectively justified.

The Part-time Workers regulations apply to all workers from day one.

There is no exclusion for casual workers, under the regulations they have the right not to be treated less favourably than comparable full-timers, unless different treatment is justified on objective grounds.

We recommend that within the legislation, the definition of a comparator should be a full-time worker with the same employer or in the same service engaged in like work or work of equal value and in cases where no such comparator exists, but where a primary fact gave cause for a Tribunal to draw an inference that there had been unlawful discrimination, the use of a hypothetical comparator should be acceptable.

The Government notes the Committee's recommendation, and that this would be in line with existing discrimination law. As stated above, details of implementation and definitions will be a matter for consultation.

The regulations were extended to allow part-timers to compare themselves with their previous full-time contract after a switch in working hours, or when returning part-time after a period of absence such as maternity leave. However, the Government believes the concept of a hypothetical comparator to be inappropriate in the context of this Directive. The regulations are straightforward to enforce based on a common sense pro rata treatment of part-timers in comparison with real-life full-timers.

We urge Government departments and agencies to serve as examples of best practice in offering opportunities for part-time and flexible working at all levels.

The Government agrees that the public sector should provide examples of best practice in this area. The Civil Service already offers flexible work opportunities and will continue to encourage the take up of these, as well as promoting the idea to the private sector. The code of practice will include ways in which public sector employers can aid part-time workers, in particular by identifying and reviewing obstacles which may limit opportunities for part-time work, and taking steps to eliminate these where appropriate, as requested in Clause 5.1 of the social partners' Framework Agreement which is the basis for the Part-Time Work Directive.

The Government wishes to demonstrate that flexible working can be successful at all levels. We plan to ask all managers/directors who are filling vacancies to reorganise a certain proportion of their posts at glass ceiling levels so that they may be offered with part-time or flexible hours working options; and thereby open up the jobs to a bigger more diverse field.

The Government wishes to continue to publicise and promote alternative working with specific events and publications. In particular we plan to launch a series of case studies about senior staff who work alternatively as part of a joint project with CCSU and New Ways to Work. To help in sharing best practice we plan to use the What Works website and provide information for departmental magazines.

We want to hear staff opinions and have included questions about work life balance in our forthcoming service wide perception survey.

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