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EU plans to measure worker happiness on redundancy at odds with UK's easing of regulatory burdens, expert says

Draft EU proposals which could see businesses having to measure how happy their workers are before and after carrying out redundancy exercises are at odds with the UK's current policy goal of reducing the regulatory burdens on business, an employment law expert has said.15 Aug 2012

Christopher Mordue of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that although the plans were "a long way from becoming law", they risked creating "unnecessary and impractical additional 'red tape' burdens" for employers.

"Businesses want laws that are simple and certain to understand and apply and which serve a real purpose - and this proposal would fail all of those tests," he said. "The fact is that most employers are well aware of the impact of redundancies on their workforces, and many already provide substantial assistance to affected employees. There is no real pressing need to make that type of assistance compulsory, or for linking such obligations to ill-defined measurements of 'psychosocial health'."

The plans, drawn up in a draft report (16-page / 204KB PDF) by Spanish MEP Alejandro Cercas and voted through the European Parliament last month, would force companies to measure the "psycho-social health" of workers, both those being made redundant and those remaining with the company, "on a permanent basis" before and after a redundancy exercise. Companies could then be made to offer retraining, interview coaching and other programmes "with a view to maximising the re-employment opportunities" of workers being made redundant or at risk of redundancy.

Companies will also have to inform "local stakeholders", including public authorities, of their plans to make redundancies at an early stage if the process is likely to impact the local community, and "actively involve" local bodies in finding alternatives to a redundancy programme where possible.

Under the plans, companies should only be able to consider redundancy "as last resort and only after considering all possible alternative options" such as phasing in planned measures over time, redeployment, reducing working hours and natural or negotiated departures.

The report comes at a time when the Government is looking to ease the regulatory burden of employment law, including proposals to simplify the statutory consultation periods for collective redundancies. It is currently consulting on reducing the required consultation period to a minimum of 30 days for all redundancies where more than 20 employees are potentially affected. Under the current rules, where an employer is proposing to make more than 100 employees redundant it must allow for at least 90 days consultation with unions or workplace representatives before any job cuts can take effect.

However, Mordue said that there was a "very real tension" between these ambitions and what the Government felt that it could deliver under the constraints of its European legal obligations.

"Collective redundancy and many of the other areas under review are controlled by European Directives, and we've already seen signs that the Government will row back from some of the possible reforms because they feel constrained by European law," he said. "Business frustration will only increase if the scope for reform is stifled even further by a tide of new employment law obligations from Europe."

Earlier this year Business Secretary Vince Cable denounced the "red tape factories of Brussels" in the press as he reiterated his commitment to rolling back "heavy handed" European employment law regulation. He particularly attacked the Working Time Directive, which limits the working week to 48 hours, and criticised proposed amendments to the Pregnant Workers Directive and "damaging" rulings in relation to holiday pay for sick workers in an opinion piece written for the Daily Telegraph.

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