Government's U-turn on part-time workers 'no surprise' say lawyers

EMPLOYMENT lawyers have responded with astonishment to press coverage of the Government's climb down over the House of Lords judgement on part-time workers rights, saying reports have “made a mountain out of a molehill”.

They claim Employment Secretary Michael Portillo's acceptance of the ruling was “inevitable” and tribunals had already begun adapting the law to give part-timers the same rights as full-time workers.

At the end of last year Portillo said legislation would be introduced in 1995 to give the UK's part-timers added protection against redundancy and unfair dismissal.

But Baker & McKenzie partner and Employment Lawyers Association (ELA) vice-chair, Fraser Younson, says the association called for amending legislation “to put the law right and to clear up uncertainty” as early as last summer.

He says: “Everyone is surprised that they have taken until now to even indicate they were going to comply with the House of Lords decision.

“In any event, the Employment Appeals Tribunal has already started adapting English law to give effect to the House of Lords decision, and without waiting for the Government to bring in legislation.

“The Secretary of State's announcement that the Government was going to change the law really was inevitable. The great brouhaha in the press is really making a mountain out of a molehill.”

Barnett Alexander Chart employment specialist Ruth Harvey says that the House of Lords ruling, handed down in March last year, decided existing discrimination against part-time workers breached European law.

She says that Portillo's announcement was simply “a political distortion of a simple legal concept”.

“In some ways it's old news. This principle has been established in the European Court for many years and, to employment lawyers, the principle established by the House of Lords earlier this year was no surprise,” says Harvey.