07 Mar, 2012

Employers and HR professionals slam UK regulations

07 Mar, 2012

Survey of 1400+ employment professionals reveals major criticisms of current and future work regulations in the UK

  • One in five HR professionals expect cost of tribunal claims to rise for employers, despite falling numbers
  • 25.8% of HR professionals want to abolish TUPE regulations; 23.4% would axe the Agency Workers Regulations
  • 33% of HR professionals anticipate the implementation of auto-enrolment for pensions will be 2012’s biggest challenge

The extent of employers’ dissatisfaction with UK employment law and regulation has been laid bare by a major survey of HR professionals.

The HR Professionals Survey 2012 found that almost a quarter would like to see the notoriously challenging Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) abolished, while a similar number said new agency worker rules would get the chop if they were able to remove one.

Daniel Barnett, barrister at Outer Temple Chambers, conducted the survey by questioning over 1,400 HR professionals from across all industries and company sizes including some of Britain’s most well-known brands. He believes that employers and HR professionals are concerned about the future and that reforms are focused only on saving the government on the cost of running services such as the employment tribunal.

“Despite claiming to be reducing the burden of employment regulation on businesses, this survey suggests that HR professionals and employers are far from satisfied. Their dislike for the TUPE regulations is unsurprising as it is probably the most complicated area of employment law; people often don’t know what the correct answer in a dispute is until the tribunal tells them.

“The government is currently consulting on a reduction of the burden caused by TUPE but it is heavily constrained by the fact that most of the laws derive from Europe and can’t be changed.”

The HR Professionals Survey also researched market sentiment in relation to what HR people at the coal face expected to be their biggest challenges this year. At the head of the queue of concerns for 2012 was the introduction of pension auto-enrolment, with 33% of respondents choosing this as their number one gripe.

Barnett commented: “This demonstrates the climate HR managers are facing as regulation and legislation develops in the UK. The complexity and expense of pension auto-enrolment seems to have left employers confused and uncomfortable about what seems very much like another layer of red tape and bureaucracy. In trying to shift the cost of providing for the elderly onto the private sector, the government seems to have broken its promise to reduce the red tape burden on businesses. As is so often the case, small and medium sized businesses will suffer most.”

The HR Survey 2012 also found that that like TUPE, the Agency Workers Regulations were unpopular amongst HR professionals. Only introduced last October, the regulations give agency workers the same basic employment and working conditions as if they were hired directly but 27.5% of HR professionals would rather they hadn’t been implemented at all.

“I suspect we will begin to see the ramifications of the AWR later this year with employers deciding to hire agency workers for short-term emergency cover only,” said Barnett.

The report had further revelations about the Employment Tribunal system itself. When asked what effect the proposed new system of fees at the ET would have on HR professionals, 56% said they expect it to reduce the number of claims. However, almost one in five (17.1%) said the cost to them would increase as the charges would simply end up being factored into the cost of settlements.

“The 11.4% who answered that they will take a more robust approach to Employment Tribunal claims if there are fewer of them could represent a sign of things to come”, Barnett added. “Policies on dealing with claims once the new fee regime is introduced seem likely to change significantly. Workplace disputes currently require a high degree of sensitivity: if somebody doesn’t attend a disciplinary or grievance hearing, it will have to be adjourned and rescheduled. However, if a new fee system does indeed reduce the number of claims, a far lower level of tolerance by employers could be the unintended consequence.”

Some of the government’s proposed reforms for 2012 include:

  • Doubling the amount of time an employee has to work to two years before they can claim unfair dismissal
  • Having most unfair dismissal cases heard by an employment judge alone, and removing the CBI and TUC appointed wing-members
  • Introducing fees for employees for bringing a tribunal claim, which will pass to employers if the employee wins the case
  • Possible simplification of TUPE and collective consultation laws