Europe is heading for a recession. The UK is experiencing the biggest jobless rise in 17 years. Barclays has predicted that there could be 150,000 fewer SME's in England and Wales by early 2010 - a prediction that was made before the financial crisis went all out.
The response of the European Parliament? To pass a law that will reduce jobs and impose more red tape - in particular for small businesses.
The Temporary Agency Workers Directive will give 'temps' the same pay as permanent staff after only 12 weeks of employment - a drastic change compared to the present arrangement in the UK. The CBI originally argued that the 'qualification period' should be 18 months, and estimated that the proposal could cost Britain 250,000 jobs.
There are lots of issues on the table here, but the main one is no doubt the disastrous timing. If anything, small businesses need breathing space to find a way through the rough times ahead. But the nature of business has never been the EP's strongest area - only 14% of MEPs have any business experience whatsoever.
Neither does it help that the EP may vote to scrap the UK's opt-out from the Working Time Directive, whose extension the Government supposedly got in exchange for accepting the Temp Directive in the first place. Talk about a potential double-whammy...
Anyhow, the TUC is happy - and one can hardly blame them. John Monks, its General Secretary is quoted on PA:
"The passage into law of today's directive means that opponents of more rights for temps have now lost, and the UK cannot now opt out of better rights for agency workers."
He got that right.