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Employment Relations Act 1999

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Section 23: Power to confer rights on individuals

229.The employment rights legislation has developed piecemeal over a period of many years. While some aspects - such as the right not to have unauthorised deductions made from wages - extend to a relatively broad description of workers, most are currently restricted to employees as narrowly defined, ie to workers engaged under a contract of employment. Whether or not a worker is engaged under such a contract is not always an easy question to answer, however. This is because it is a common law question of mixed fact and law which in the event of a dispute can be definitively determined only by a court or tribunal. No single factor is conclusive; all relevant circumstances must be taken into account.

230.The Government considers it desirable to clarify the coverage of the legislation and to reflect better the considerable diversity of working relationships in the modern labour market. Currently, significant numbers of economically active individuals - including for example many home workers and agency workers - are either uncertain whether they qualify or else clearly fail to qualify, for most if not all employment rights. Some work providers offer jobs on the basis of contracts under which the workers, although acting in a capacity closely analogous to that of employees and not genuinely in business on their own account, are technically self-employed or of indeterminate status according to the established common law criteria, and are thus effectively deprived of the rights in question.

231.Certain descriptions of individuals are explicitly excluded from exercising some or all of the rights, although not on a consistent basis, and others - such as members of the clergy - are incapable of qualifying owing to the nature of their appointment.

232.Section 23(2) gives the Secretary of State the power, by order subject to the affirmative resolution procedure (under section 42), to extend to individuals who do not at present enjoy them employment rights under the 1992 and 1996 Acts, this Act and any instrument made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. The Government envisages using this new power to ensure that all workers other than the genuinely self-employed enjoy the minimum standards of protection that the legislation is intended to provide, and that none are excluded simply because of technicalities relating to the type of contract or other arrangement under which they are engaged.

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