03 October 2013
October is one of the times of year the government brings in a slew of reforms and new laws, so this week employment law has seen a number of changes.
Tuesday, October 01 2013, brought with it two cuts to health and safety law, one to equality law, and a mediocre rise in the National Minimum Wage.
In health and safety, the new Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) came in, removing the classification for ‘major injuries’ to workers and replacing it with a briefer list of ‘specified injuries’. Employers also do not have to report on as many ‘dangerous occurrences’ as they did previously, and the list of industrial diseases they must report has fallen from 47 to eight categories of work-related illness. Following the new RIDDOR requirements, it is certain that statistics will show a drop in work-related accidents and ill-health, but not because workplaces are safer, simply because employers no longer need to admit they are dangerous.
Another hit to health and safety in the workplace has come from new laws repealing the requirement for the training and qualification of first aiders to be approved by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This will make it difficult to ensure a basic standard of workplace first aid across the country, potentially leaving workers more vulnerable than they were before.
In equality law, employers’ liability for the harassment of their staff by third-parties (so long as they are aware of two previous instances of harassment and have failed to act on it) has been repealed. This means there is no longer a legal requirement for employers to protect their workers against abuse from customers, service users or contractors (including racial abuse and sexual harassment).
Lastly, the National Minimum Wage has been increased by 1.9% for adults over the age of 21 to £6.31 per hour. This pitiful increase, which still leaves workers struggling against inflation, comes after the government told the Low Pay Commission to take the economy and youth unemployment into account when deciding on this year’s raise – political speak for ‘keep wages as low as possible’.
The TUC noted that if the National Minimum Wage had been increased by a mere 4% to £6.56 per hour, a quarter of a billion pounds of public money would be saved. If it were raised to £6.88 – halfway toward the Living Wage – the Treasury would save a massive £800 million.
At the Institute of Employment Rights, we believe that changing the way we see wages as an economic instrument is critical to the success of the UK’s economy and its future prosperity and resilience. While the Coalitions insist that higher wages would break employers and cost jobs, it conveniently ignores that a pay rise would also drive up demand for employers’ goods and services (creating new jobs) and add billions to the public purse through higher tax revenue and lower expenditure on benefits.
The Coalition’s plan for the UK has failed. It’s time to try an alternative approach – one that has proven successful before – by working together as employers and employees to improve living standards and strengthen the economy. We believe this can be achieved through wider collective bargaining, as was the case in the post-war years.