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Call for over-haul of UK labour laws

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The CBI has put forward a series of proposals aimed at changing labour market and employment rules.

The employers’ organisation said that the reform would help to sustain business growth.

The recommendations include extending flexible working, blocking regulations that will cost jobs and changing industrial relations legislation.

In the report, entitled Making Britain the Place to Work, the CBI wants the government to introduce an employment test to ensure that any future employment laws help the creation of new jobs.

All new laws should be subjected to rigorous audit with businesses given the chance to highlight where regulation has been poorly designed and suggest ways to improve them.

It also recommended a change to the rules on strike ballots so that industrial action can only go ahead if 40 per cent of the balloted workforce support it, as well as a simple majority of those voting.

Additionally, the consultation period for collective redundancies should be shortened from 90 days to 30 days for companies seeking to make more than 100 people redundant. This would bring the requirement in line with the one-month consultation period needed for proposed redundancies of fewer than 100 jobs, the CBI said.

John Cridland, the CBI’s deputy director-general, commented: “As we enter a period of fragile recovery, we need to do everything we can to create a jobs market that works for Britain, and to ensure Britain is the place to work.

“To position the UK for growth, any new employment legislation must pass a simple test of whether it will encourage job creation.

“We also need to look at changing the rules around industrial action. Strikes cost the economy dearly and undermine our efforts to help rebuild the economy. That is why we believe the bar needs to be raised, so strike action is not possible unless 40 per cent of the workforce has actively voted to withdraw its labour.”

Mr Cridland added: “During the recession, many firms had to restructure their businesses to survive. No company takes the decision to let go of staff lightly, but when businesses reach the stage where demand has fallen off a cliff and redundancies are inevitable, dragging out the process over three months just prolongs the agony for employees.

“We believe shortening the consultation period to a month would spare staff from some of this uncertainty, while allowing companies to act quickly to protect the longer-term health of the business.”

On the question of greater flexibility in the workplace, the CBI argued the case for extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, while ensuring employers have enough time to adapt and are given clear guidance on how to prioritise requests.

The UK’s individual opt-out from the maximum 48-hour week under the Working Time Directive must be retained, the CBI continued.

Rather than simply abolishing the default retirement age, the right to request flexible retirement should be made more effective.

Meanwhile, the rules governing the employment of agency workers should ensure that existing jobs can be maintained and new posts created.

The CBI also called for a review of the implementation of existing EU directives to remove any gold-plating, including of European TUPE rules. The business group claimed that the present TUPE laws effectively prevent an employer from harmonising the terms and conditions of a newly-acquired business with its existing workforce.

Brendan Barber, the TUC’s general secretary, criticised the report, saying: “The UK already has some of the toughest legal restrictions on the right to strike in the advanced world. The courts regularly strike down democratic ballots that clearly show majority support for action. The number of days lost to industrial action is historically low and less than in many other countries.”