Sunday, 20 March 2011

Coalition: untrained and stressed workers better for the economy

On 6 April 2011, parents of children aged 17 were to be given the right to request flexible working from their employers. Not the right to have flexible working, understand - just the right to request it.

The coalition intends to cancel this regulation before it takes effect.

From that press release.

The Government is committed to extending the right to request flexible working to all employees in due course, as set out in the Coalition Agreement.

The aim behind delaying the extension of flexible working is to allow businesses breathing space in the current economic climate.

Flexible working is currently available for parents with children 16 and under and carers.

Okay. So, let's go through this more slowly.

  1. The right to request flexible working is currently available for parents of children 16 or under, and carers. Employees do not have to grant flexible working - ever - but the employee has the right to ask and have their employer consider it, and the employer must have a good reason to say no.
  2. On the 6 April, the number "16" in that sentence would have changed to "17".
  3. But to reduce red tape by keeping the number and complexity of regulations related to flexible working exactly the same, it now won't.
  4. This will save the economy, because rather than worrying about whether all their employees with children aged exactly 17 (many small businesses have exactly zero employees fitting that description) were suddenly going to descend on them and ask for flexible working, employers will be able to ... um ... er ... Profit!
  5. Later, if the economy is better, they will increase red tape again by simplifying that regulation even further so that it says "all employees" rather than "all employees meeting conditions X, Y, Z"

No surprises for guessing that this sort of change will harm non-default employees - women, disabled people, working class people especially - far more than it harms the default ones (who weren't going to request flexible working much anyway)

And don't think about developing your skills either

Similarly, the right to request time off to train will be removed for employees of businesses with under 250 people.

Most economists would say that increasing the skill levels of your workforce improved productivity and so led to increased economic growth - but not Vince Cable and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS): they know the truth. Their next step will presumably be to rename themselves to the Department of Business, Stagnation, and Lack of Skills, to better reflect what the country needs right now.

Has DBIS said anything economically sound recently?

Hmm... it was also Cable's department that was responsible for the economically bizarre plans for tuition fees:

  1. Make students take out at least a "very large" loan to go to university at all
  2. Set the repayment terms such that for most of them (except the ones who get rich enough not to care) the total repayments will be exactly the same for a "very large" loan and a "really very large" loan.
  3. Let the universities choose whether their students will need a "very large" or "really very large" loan (but give the universities more money per student in the "really very large" case)
  4. Act incredibly shocked when every single university says "really very large".

Perhaps they've already fired all their well-trained economists, and aren't letting their replacements read any textbooks in case they learn something. This would explain rather a lot about their recent policy announcements.