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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I sympathise with the intentions behind my noble friend's amendment. Nobody can argue against the need to provide adequate protection for employees. That is why the range of domestic and European employment protection law has been strengthened consistently over many years.
The working time regulations set a minimum standard of employee protection that all employees must observe. Among other things, the regulations state that no worker can be forced to work more than 48 hours a week against his will. They also set standards for minimum rest breaks. The regulations represent a powerful safeguard against abuse by unscrupulous employers, but one that is balanced by flexibility. Individual employees may, if they wish, work longer hours than those stipulated.
However, nothing in current employment law requires employers to remunerate employees with different rates of pay for what we might term "anti-social" hours. People are often surprised, for example, to learn that there is no legal requirement for an increased rate of pay, or other compensation, for working on bank holidays. That position reflects the view of this and previous administrations that, subject to certain minimum standardsin our time they are embodied in the working time regulationsterms and conditions of employment are primarily a matter of contract between the employee and employer.
Employees' working hours form part of their contract of employment. Once agreed, the terms of such contracts are binding on employer and employee. Any subsequent changes must be negotiated and agreed between them. If an employer changes his employees' working hours without their consent, they can seek legal redress for breach of contract. So part of the protection sought by the noble Lord in his amendment already exists.
As the noble Lord will recognise, employers need to attract staff of the right calibre and will frame the rewards that they offer accordingly. Except for chefs, of which there is a general shortage, there are no reports that the hospitality and leisure industry has any great difficulty in recruiting staff, although retention is sometimes a problem. That is often due to the image of work in the industry being in some cases short term. Many work for a limited time in the industry. It is an image that I know various organisationsthe British Hospitality Association and the British Institute of Innkeepers, to name but twoseek to address. It is certainly an unfair image. Few industries offer the same equality and duration of opportunity as the hospitality industry.
My noble friend will recognise that the Government wish to see best practice in employee protection widely disseminated. The Department of Trade and Industry has published several good practice guides. One of them, Creating a Work-Life BalanceA Good Practice Guide for the Hospitality Industry, is particularly relevant to this case. It makes clear that a positive approach to work-life balance makes good business sense for employers by producing better motivated and happier employees. It also has a role in attracting new employees to the business, improving productivity and reducing labour turnover. The guide was developed in co-operation with organisations in the sector.
There is another factor to consider. It will be recognised that many employees in the hospitality sector work shifts. Let us not forget that we envisage, at least in the early days, that any extensions of licensing hours will be relatively modest in the vast majority of cases. But any extension is unlikely to provoke employers to seek any great increase in the workload of individual employees. It is likely, however, to increase employment opportunities within the sector, which we would all welcome.
To sum up, provided basic minimum standards are in place, further protection, such as compensation for anti-social hours or taxi fares home, must be the subject of employment law and individual contracts of employment.
Although I fully appreciate what my noble friend seeks to achieve with his amendment, the basic safeguards already exist in law. The Government are encouraging best practice to raise standards further. My noble friend suggested that a tripartite meeting should take place. In the context of the Bill, I am not in a position to comment positively on that. Of course the industry realises that when the Bill becomes an Act some significant changes will be implemented that we
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that disappointing reply. He acknowledged no new qualitative problems, except for a reference to new issues being created by this legislation. This is not incremental legislation; it moves us into a qualitatively different work culture. I repeat my request that my noble friend takes away the proposal that the Government convene a tripartite meetingthat is, a meeting with employers and unionsto draw up a list of the employment law matters that are affected, indicating where gaps may appear, and to rule nothing in or out of this field. The issue has not been the subject of scrutiny in this House and it should be examined during the Bill's parliamentary stages. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, Section 19 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 exempts organised religions in the case of employment that is restricted to one sex to comply with doctrine or to avoid offending
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply; it was not entirely unexpected. Does he agree that it is extraordinary that, in a country that has a good record on anti-discrimination legislation, the national Churchthe established Churchis still able to deny to women the right not only to be promoted but to hold any of the many posts that are still advertised with the words "No woman need apply".
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am interested in the noble Baroness's question. Her original Question went wider than the question of the employment of women priests, and I took it to relate to the employment status of all priests, men or women. The details of the spreadif that is the right wordof unemployment of women priests are a separate issue, which was resolved in the Church of England by the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the standing committee of the House of Bishops of the Church of England has indicated to the General Synod on more than one occasion that it agrees that there should be a review of the arrangements made by the legislation on women priests, once the Synod has received the final report of the working party of the House of Bishops on women in the episcopate and has decided what action to take on it? Does he agree that, in reviewing those arrangements, the Church will have to take account of the need not only to ensure fair and proper treatment for its women priests but to consider the position of thoseincluding many womenwho cannot, at this time, accept that ministry in conscience?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am happy to join the right reverend Prelate in extending greetings to the new Archbishop of Canterbury. We look forward to welcoming him to the House on, I think, 12th March.
We are aware of the working party. It has wider terms of reference and covers issues such as freehold. I understand that there is an undertaking to report to the Synod and to have decisions made not later than 2006.
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