Vince Cable yesterday announced ‘the most radical reform to the employment law system for decades’ – as part of the Government’s plan for ‘cutting unnecessary demands on business while safeguarding workers’ rights’.

You can read Citizens Advice’s Richard Dunstan views on the proposals here.

Dunstan argues: ‘This constitutes a charter for rogue employers that will at a stroke, make the jobs of some three million people even more insecure than they are already.’

Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey said that at a time when unemployment was ‘at a 17-year high and youth unemployment topped a record one million’ it was ‘appalling that this government should concentrate on making it easier to fire people, rather than getting people back to work’. ‘Ministers are hell-bent on removing long-established rights at work, making dismissal easier and promoting a culture of fear in the workplace, he said. ‘If ministers praise our “flexible” labour market, then what problems is this concerted move against working people meant to be solving?’

During a speech to EEF, the manufacturers organisation, Cable announced the results of a consultation on the Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation and the ‘Red Tape Challenge’ review of employment law which will ‘deliver £40 million a year in benefits to employers’. You can read his speech here.

‘Our labour market is already one of the most flexible in the world. This flexibility benefits businesses, staff and the wider economy. But many employers still feel that employment law is a barrier to growing their business,’ Cable said. ‘We’re knocking down that barrier today – getting the state out of the way, making it easier for businesses to take on staff and improving the process for when staff have to be let go.’

In response to the suggestion that dismissal laws were ‘too onerous’ for small businesses, the Government is looking at:

  • The introduction of ‘compensated no fault dismissal’ for ‘micro firms’ (fewer than ten employees).
  • Ways to ‘slim down’ dismissal processes, including working with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) to make changes to their code

Other proposals, flowing from its so called ‘Red Tape Challenge’, include a call for evidence on the consultation rules for collective redundancies and whether the current 90-day minimum period for more than 100 redundancies can be reduced. Ministers are keen to see whether this ‘acts as a barrier to employer flexibility in the labour market’.

The Ministry of Justice is to publish a consultation on the introduction of fees for anyone bringing  a claim to an employment tribunal. The idea is to make the courts pay for themselves and ‘transfer the cost burden from taxpayers to users of the system’ and ‘encourage claimants to consider seriously the validity of their claim’.

The Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation was launched in January this year and closed on April 20th. The Government’s response can be read here. As part of that consultation, ministers plan to:

  • make all employment disputes to go to Acas to be offered pre-claim conciliation before going to a tribunal and, from April 2012, increasing the qualification period for unfair dismissal from one to two years;
  • publish a consultation in the new year on ‘protected conversations’ which allows employers to discuss issues like retirement or poor performance in an open manner with staff – without this being used in any subsequent tribunal claims;
  • conduct a further consultation on measures to simplify compromise agreements (to be renamed ‘settlement agreements’). A compromise agreement is a type of employment contract, which means when the working relationship has broken down, employees receive a negotiated financial sum to end their contract and agree to not bring further claims against their employer; and
  • announce plans to develop a ‘rapid resolution’ scheme to offer a quicker and cheaper alternative to determination at an employment tribunal.

Profile photo of Jon Robins About Jon Robins
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award

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