Know your employment rights
It was not long ago that employees had no specific employment rights which were enforceable against their employers, save for those rights which were set out in the employment contract, and even these could only be enforced by recourse to a lengthy process of litigation in the ordinary civil courts. Throughout the 20th century, successive governments of both parties have passed legislation which is aimed at giving workers certain minimum statutory safeguards. These individual employment rights trump any contrary intent which is written into the contract of employment, and can be enforced by the employee by appealing to an employment tribunal without the necessity of hiring an expensive lawyer.
However, the introduction of individual employment rights has been a controversial issue. Whilst the vast majority of employees cannot fail to agree that their own situation is much improved by the creation of employment rights which are specifically enforceable against the employers, they are viewed with suspicion by a school of legal commentators, politicians and legal academics who see the introduction of individual employment rights as a tactic for undermining the power of trade unions and the solidarity of the labour force. Despite criticism from some quarters, individual employment rights are now very much a part of the way in which the employment relationship is regulated in the United Kingdom.
The minimum wage
Traditionally, workers have been forced to accept the rate of pay set by an employer, or look elsewhere for work. Employers were prevented from squeezing too hard by the threat of union mobilisation and strike action, but this was not enough to prevent many thousands of vulnerable people being forced to accept less than a living wage. The National Minimum Wage Act of 1998 gave every worker the employment right to a minimum rate of pay. This rate has been varied several times by the government of the day to ensure that it continues to increase above inflation.
Working time regulation
The days of industrialists cracking the whip to make their employees work excessive hours has long since passed. In the 1990s the European Commission created legislation which required all national governments to ensure that employees were not forced to work more than 48 hours per week. Employees in the UK now enjoy this as a basic employment right, and it is unlawful for an employer to require a worker to put in more than 48 hours each week without that worker’s consent and workers have an employment right to minimum rest periods and compulsory breaks.
Maternity and Paternity Rights
The natural urge to procreate is a powerful force and in the past many people have given in to this force, and as a result been left with little choice but to surrender their career in order to make time for the demands which a squalling brood of urchins will place upon their time. But no longer, because all employees now have maternity and paternity rights. These employment rights afford the new mother or father the right top return to work at the end of his or her period of paternal leave on the same terms, and at the same rate of pay. Further, the employer may be forced to make changes to the employees working pattern in order to allow her to balance her work against the requirements of her family life.
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