A European law expert has warned that draft regulations covering part time workers in further and higher education are badly flawed, writes Harriet Swain.
In a legal opinion delivered as the Department of Trade and Industry completed consultation on new regulations, Lord Lester QC said the regulations may not fully comply with European directives.
He also criticised maternity and parental leave regulations that came into force in December.
Lecturers' union Natfhe, public service union Unison and the GMB sought the opinion because of concerns over the government's narrow definition of "employees" as those with a contract of employment. They suggest that this definition was designed to exploit loopholes in the directive.
According to Lord Lester, EU Framework directives on parental leave and part timers' leave use the wider term "workers". This term is defined as having "a contract of employment or employment relationship", and it is used in all European anti-discrimination legislation.
One aim of the part-time directive is to protect those with unorthodox and informal working arrangements. The unions claim that the UK draft regulations will exclude most part-time and casual workers.
Lord Lester's opinion also states that the draft regulations will do little to meet government policy objectives such as promoting flexible working practices.
Paul Mackney, Natfhe general secretary, said: "We urge the DTI to go back to the drawing board to protect its own laws from challenge and over six million workers from discrimination."