Deregulation Bill attacks health and safety and anti-discrimination laws

The draft Deregulation Bill was published on Monday 1st July 2013 and contains proposals to remove large sections of employees and employers from health and safety regulation, as well as weakening anti-discrimination laws.

Published by Cabinet Office ministers Ken Clarke and Oliver Letwin, the proposed reforms are claimed to be based on feedback gained from the government’s online Red Tape Challenge – a forum for businesses and individuals to give feedback on regulation they find ‘burdensome’, or which they fully support.

As many as 182 pieces of legislation are to be repealed or amended as part of the Bill, including “formally exempting” 800,000 people from health and safety regulation by abolishing health and safety regulations for self-employed workers in “low risk” occupations. The issues that lie with the government’s term “low risk” have been described by the Institute of Employment Rights and regular expert and speaker on health and safety Sociologist David Whyte of the University of Liverpool.

Such terms have been historically left undefined by the government, allowing them to decide what counts as “low risk” without recourse to evidence or criteria. The Institute of Employment Rights has also criticised the plans to exempt self-employed workers as being complicated and confusing. Those who do not pose a risk to others will never be subject to health and safety claims in the first place, so what cost is the Coalition attempting to remove? What’s more, the change in rules may raise confusion among both contractors and their engagers, potentially putting self-employed workers, fellow workers and the public at risk.

The Bill will also remove the power of employment tribunals to make wider recommendations, such as ordering employers to provide training for their staff; introduce new diversity policies; or other measures that may prevent further breaches of regulation. This will be seen as weakening discrimination laws.

Also to be watched is the proposed changes to apprenticeships, which the government plans to make “more flexible and responsive to the needs to employers and the economy”. Bearing in mind that apprenticeship schemes under the Coalition government have been criticised for providing poor training and experience to young people, who are forced to accept a tiny wage of £2.65 per hour, it is astonishing to see that changes to make placements more responsive to the needs to employees has not been considered.

Lastly, plans to introduce a new mechanism by which government can fast-track deregulation are a worrying sign reminiscent of the increased use of secondary legislation that can be altered without Royal Assent.

Oliver Letwin, Minister for Government Policy, said the new mechanism will “allow Parliament to identify and remove uncontroversial legislation more speedily”, but when it comes to semantics like “uncontroversial”, one man’s definition may be very different from a minister’s.

The government has been deregulating industry at a sickening pace since it first took power, but Ken Clarke said the Coalition is not nearing the end of its campaign. “There is much more to come,” he stated.

Read the Draft Deregulation Bill here

First published on the Institute Of Employment Rights Website, 3rd July.

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