Draft Fixed-Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 and Draft Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 (Amendment) Regulations 2002

[back to previous text]

Mr. Robathan: This is the part that I have been following closely. I do not understand why fixed-term employment relates to the role of the armed forces.

Alan Johnson: I know that the hon. Gentleman has some experience of the issue, but the Ministry of Defence was quick to tell us in the consultation that it

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would hamper the armed forces, although not civilian staff. I cannot remember the exact reasons in the three minutes left to me, but I can tell him that they were delivered forcefully.

Mr. Hammond: Will the Minister give way?

Alan Johnson: Very quickly.

Mr. Hammond: What is the status of special advisers to Secretaries of the State and other Ministers? Presumably, they are fixed-term workers who are not susceptible to being converted to permanent employees after four years.

Alan Johnson: I think that I shall seek advice from a special adviser on that.

My final points relate to the issues raised by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Brian Cotter). I have mentioned the regulatory impact assessment and the reasons for such a disparity. I agree that the assessment is important, but he will accept that it is difficult to pinpoint exact costs. Indeed, business recognised that during our consultation exercise.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the involvement of the Small Business Service, and we have involved it for the past two years. To correct something that I said earlier, the guidance will be published this week, not next. The SBS has been heavily involved in that, too.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether there will be a report back on the regulations. He will be pleased to know that the Government shall keep their commitments and that we intend to review the regulations in three years. With that, I hope that the Committee accepts them.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 (Amendment) Regulations 2002.[Alan Johnson.]

6 pm

Alan Johnson: These regulations will make it unlawful for employers to treat part-timers less favourably than comparable full-timers in their terms and conditions of employment, unless different treatment can be objectively justified. Under the regulations in their current form, part-time workers must compare themselves with full-timers employed under the same type of contract. One result of that is that part-timers on fixed-term contracts have to compare themselves with full-timers on fixed-term contracts. They cannot compare themselves with full-timers on permanent contracts.

We believe that a change is needed in the light of the forthcoming implementation of the regulations on fixed-term workers, as less favourable treatment of part-timers is likely on the ground that they are fixed term, which would be contrary to those regulations. Therefore, we propose to amend the 2000 regulations so that part-timers on fixed-term contracts can

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compare themselves with part-timers on permanent contracts. At the same time, it seems sensible to amend the regulations so that the reverse can happen, enabling part-timers on permanent contracts to compare themselves with full-timers on fixed-term contracts.

The second amendment to the 2000 regulations results from the House of Lords judgment in Preston v. Wolverhampton Health Care NHS trust. Their lordships ruled that a limiting provision in equal pay and pensions legislation that prevented employees from being able to recover employers' contributions to a pension scheme for more than two years before the bringing of the proceedings contravened European law on the equal treatment of men and women.

Regulation 8(8) of the 2000 regulations provides that the remedies that a tribunal orders when it has upheld a complaint from a part-timer for equal access to an occupational pension scheme can go back no further than two years. The two-year limit was included to ensure consistency with the limit in equal pay and pensions legislation that the Preston judgment overturned. In the light of that judgment, the limit is being removed. Its removal also makes the 2000 regulations consistent with the regulations on fixed-term employees, which have no such time limit.

We intend the changes to the 2000 regulations to come into force on 1 October, the same date as the regulations on fixed-term employees. I look forward to hearing the Committee's comments.

6.3 pm

Mr. Hammond: I listened carefully to the Minister, and I suspect that he will shelter behind the courts in response to my question and say, ''It was them what done it, guv.'' The problem is that part-timers on fixed-term contracts must compare themselves with full-timers on fixed-term contracts, and cannot compare themselves with full-timers on permanent contracts. It is not immediately apparent why that will be resolved by allowing them to compare themselves with full-timers on permanent contracts. Is it not more logical for the situation to be resolved by allowing part-timers on fixed-term contracts to compare themselves with part-timers on permanent contracts?

So far as I understand it, the Minister is saying that, after the amendment, part-timers on fixed-term contracts will be able to compare themselves with full-timers on permanent contracts. The equity of that is not immediately apparent, and I would be grateful if he clarified it. If it is simply that the courts have given rise to the need for the amendment, perhaps he is no wiser than I.

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Alan Johnson: Let us get this straight. As a result of the regulations that we have just agreed, discrimination against fixed-term employees will no longer be possible. The part-time workers directive, to which we agreed two years ago, provides that a part-timer on a fixed-term contract can be compared only to a full-timer on a fixed-term contract. Having just approved the regulations, that will be discriminatory against the part-timer, not because he or she works part-time, but because he or she is on a fixed-term contract. The change achieves that which the hon. Gentleman said is sensible. If we accept the regulations, the part-timer on a fixed-term contract will be able to compare himself with a full-timer on a permanent contract.

Mr. Hammond: But not a part-timer on a permanent contract, if I understand the Minister and the explanatory memorandum correctly. That baffles me, because I would have thought that the obvious comparator for a part-timer on a fixed-term contract is a part-timer on a permanent contract working alongside him for the same employer, and I cannot see why that alternative comparator is not allowed. [Interruption.] I suspect that the Minister is about to be struck with inspiration as to why that is the case. I have known him for a long time, and I have such premonitions.

Alan Johnson: Why not let part-timers compare themselves with each other, because the regulations deal with discrimination against part-timers compared with full-timers? That is the purpose of the directive introduced in 2000.

Mr. Hammond: I think I understand the Minister's logic, although it took him a while to work it out for himself. I think he is saying that the regulations are essentially a consequential amendment. If that is the case, I must accept the logic behind his remarks. It probably does us no good to probe the benefits and disbenefits of the regulations, because what he says is strictly logical.

Alan Johnson: I am grateful for those comments. The Committee should have no fear of approving the regulations, which will make the same provision for part-timers as we have already approved for fixed-term employees.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 (Amendment) Regulations 2002.

Committee rose at eight minutes past Six o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Chidgey, Mr. David (Chairman)
Barron, Mr.
Chaytor, Mr.
Clarke, Mr. Tony
Clelland, Mr.
Cotter, Brian
Dawson, Mr.
Hammond, Mr.

Column Number: 028


Hendry, Mr.
Johnson, Alan
Laxton, Mr.
Pearson, Mr.
Robathan, Mr.
Salter, Mr.
Smith, Mr. Chris

 
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