Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Government must do more to simplify employment law

The latest news from John Lewis says it all really. Now before you think this is another rant about the pros and cons of the retailer coming to Northern Ireland, relax, because it's merely a few words about red tape in business.

The seemingly kind-hearted store has paid a massive £40m to staff who were inadvertently underpaid for working bank holidays and Sundays.

That works out about £120 for most, but will be over £1,000 for some workers who put their hand up for unsociable hours over the last seven years.

It's quite a gesture but the company is doing it to keep on the right side of the law.

That's because even it, a company that employs 69,000 people had misunderstood the growing complexity of employment law and needs to make it up to its employees or "partners" if you want to abide by John Lewis parlance.

John Lewis for well publicised reasons doesn't operate in Northern Ireland where employment laws are devolved to Stormont but the problems it faces are much the same here as they are elsewhere in the UK.

Although rightly slanted to protect workers there's a tendency for law makers to over-complicate the system and that can leave companies, particularly small companies, inadvertently breaking the law through sheer confusion.

In fact it's even worse for Northern Ireland firms many of whom operate on both sides of the border under different, yet equally complicated laws.

The CBI and Pinsent Masons recently launched a guide to treading the fine line of employment laws in the Republic and Northern Ireland – which will help. But really it's up to government to simplify the laws and ease the burden on already overstretched businesses.

If Stormont really wants the private sector to grow then it needs to ease the growing pains every company faces.

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