I LOVE the ability of Tony Blairs government to come up with projects that plainly achieve the opposite of their nominal purpose. What I want to ridicule today is the ever deeper thickets of rules that make it more hazardous to employ anyone. This has the effect of rendering ever more unemployed. What we will need next to join the existing Better Regulation Unit is A Better Employment Task Force.
Let me be specific. The National Minimum Wage sets thresholds beneath which people cannot sell their labour. This is quite cosy for those with jobs. Yet at the margin it has deterred employment. The Working Time Directive, regulating the use of part-time and agency workers, has compromised a previously active market. Since the UK abandoned its opt-out, further legislation banning discrimination on grounds of religion, sexual orientation and age have been imposed by the European Commission under the Treaty of Amsterdam
By this autumn it will be illegal for firms to retire people at 65, so look for thousands of people, aged say 63 or 64, to be let go this summer. And look for some pretty grisly employment tribunals and big settlements a couple of years later.
Can you see the common themes to all these intrusions? They are all breathlessly well-meaning but not quite of the real world. The Civil Service can afford generous maternity and paternity leave. It is less easy for a corner shop or perhaps a decorating team employing four. The politicians and regulators can bask in a glow of benevolence. Lower down, the sound of grit in the workings of the employment market goes unheard by officialdom.
Half of our new employment rules do not originate from our own democracy. They were imposed upon us by the Commission in Brussels. There was no Parliamentary scrutiny. There was no consultation. There was no discussion.
Sir David Arculus, who used to head the Better Regulation Unit, also identifies a peculiar British addition that we are a law abiding lot. Where Italians or Spaniards ignore their governmental intrusions, we are trained to comply. Sir David also describes the phenomenon of regulatory creep by which the DTI or Department of Employment gold plates an initiative from Brussels. Hopefully his succesor, Rick Haythornthwaite, will continue to exhort Whitehall to regulate as the last, not first, attempt to solve a problem, but he is utterly powerless as far as Brussels is concerned.
Professor Len Shackleton, of Westminster University, shocked me with his disclosure that there are now 80 laws governing employment