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The late Lord Denning once famously compared the growth in European legislation as a tide sweeping up the rivers an...
The late Lord Denning once famously compared the growth in European legislation as a tide sweeping up the rivers and estuaries of the UK - and the employment legislation tide is certainly flowing at the moment.

The list of initiatives is daunting, with legislation or proposals on a whole host of employment issues either agreed or under consideration. The list includes motions effecting temporary and agency staff, teleworking, fixed-term contracts, works councils and discrimination - including the thorny question of age.

The last three will probably have the greatest impact on local government.

The government is already late in implementing the directive on fixed-term work and has recently postponed the regulations that would bring it into force.

When the proposals do become law, there will be a limit on the length of fixed-term contracts and the number of times they can be renewed. It will no longer be possible to ask staff on a fixed-term contract to waive their right to a redundancy payment.

Some believe this will make fixed-term contracts redundant, especially for senior staff for whom they have become common over the years.

Existing European provisions on works councils for multinationals are to be extended to all major employers, including those in the public sector. This will give trade unions more say in the decision-making process and will link up with the government's plans for greater staff involvement in best value reviews.

Perhaps most significantly of all, the European Framework Directive on Equal Treatment extends the scope of equality legislation to include age.

The UK does not have to decide on how it is to respond to the age issue until 2006, but already fierce debates are taking place about the scope of the measure.

There are doubts as to whether redundancy payment schemes based on age and service can remain lawful. But in particular, there are differing views as to whether the issue of age discrimination should be extended into the area of occupational pensions.

Some, including the Society of Personnel Officers, are of the view there should be an end to compulsory retirement ages, and, instead, there should be a limit on the maximum amount of service that should count towards pension entitlement.

It is argued that keeping the status quo would offend the directive. Others, especially those with financial responsibility for the schemes, think such a move could be the last straw for final salary occupational schemes, including in local government.

While the arguments go on, the European impact on UK employment continues to grow and Lord Denning's tide shows no sign of ebbing.

Tim Rothwell

Managing director, GWT Rothwell

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