48-Hour Week Starts a Compensation Clamour

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID NORRIS

NEW working-time laws are set to send compensation claims against employers soaring to an all-time high, figures showed yesterday.

The subject is likely to outstrip even sex and race discrimination cases.

It threatens to shatter the Government's claim to be business-friendly, as firms face time-consuming and costly industrial tribunal hearings, with many claimants backed by unions. And legislation due later this year will raise the compensation ceiling from [pounds sterling]12,000 to [pounds sterling]50,000.

The latest evidence that a flood of claims is building up came in the annual report from the conciliation service Acas.

It revealed that calls from people asking for advice on worker rights rocketed by 15 per cent to over 500,000 last year.

'Much of this increase was due to concern over the working time regulations, particularly the implications for holiday entitlement and holiday pay,' it said.

Calls for help to Acas do not necessarily end up at tribunals - but they are a strong indication of potential legal actions.

The working time legislation, which limits hours to 48 a week, came into force last October and has already sparked outrage from employers.

Its public critics include Northern Foods chairman Lord Hask-ins, once regarded as Tony Blair's staunchest business ally, who last month condemned the rules as 'a dog's dinner'.

He warned they could turn the UK into as litigious a society as the U.S., with courts having to decide exactly what the confusing laws actually mean.

Lord Haskins, a member of New Labour's pre-election inner circle of advisers, said advice from a task force he chairs, created to cut down red tape, was totally ignored when the legislation was drawn up.

The scene for a landslide of legal action was set in March, when the High Court ruled that employees have the right to take a boss to court if they are being forced to work more than 48 hours a week. …