Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Right where your employer wants you

There are many reputable employers out there who treat their staff well and have good managers who know what they are doing. Sadly, there are also many employers who treat their people like chattels and abuse their position of power. For this, we have had a remedy - protection through employment tribunals and by the law, but - predictably - the Tories want to roll back those protections with a new 'employers' charter,' which will not be unveiled until after the by-election this week, unsurprisingly. Where's the employee's charter?

These changes will make little or no difference to numbers employed - I've spent almost two decades mostly in the private sector and I've been involved in recruitment for virtually all that time. The decision to recruit is made on business grounds - do we need additional resources and will they help to drive the business forward? Not once have I ever had a recruitment request refused because of the depth of 'red tape'. This was in place during the last decade and we saw thousands of people gainfully employed apparently despite this restrictive legislation. The change will only apply to unfair dismissal, which only forms a minority of claims. Discrimination claims - which can be brought even as part of the recruitment process - will rightly remain without a qualifying period. The proposal to require a payment of up to £250 to bring an employment tribunal is also likely to restrict genuine claims from people who have been dismissed unfairly.

A friend of mine did take a former employer to court for unfair dismissal. The process was long and very arduous and he risked an awful lot to bring it - he was living off credit cards until he finally won his case and was able to clear his debts with his compensation. Don't think that it is an easy path to riches, because it isn't.

Working within the law really requires a proper recruitment and disciplinary structure - something that actually helps both sides, because people know where they stand, how they can expect to be treated and the rules of engagement. It is about natural justice.

The TUC commissioned a study into this and demonstrated that there is no simple answer, nor is there a single magic solution.
Relatively highly regulated Scandinavian countries have achieved success and countries with low regulation show, over comparable time periods, vastly different outcomes. Strong employment rates are the concequence of a country’s overall economic strength, not its level of employment protection.
There are far more important elements in achieving economic growth

strong export markets, strengthened consumer demand, smart public sector investment, improved business access to capital and ongoing improvements in workplace innovation and productivity
And there seems little in the government's economic 'plans' to support or deliver any of those essential elements.

In addition, the proposals to limit the payment of Statutory Sick Pay - which is hardly generous, at just £10 more than job seekers allowance - may well prove to be an own goal, as it will shift responsibility and cost onto the taxpayer sooner and will make it less likely that sick employees will return to work.

These proposals unbalance further the relationship with the employee, tilting it firmly in favour of the employer. The further proposal to exempt small firms from some aspects of legislation is also rather odd, as - if you accept the government's arguments - it would discourage growth, as a small company might consider all this employment law too restrictive and prefer to stay small. Those big employers who sat round the Cabinet table to talk to the Prime Minister yesterday and rewarded him with some soundbites suggesting that these existing plans were new and somehow the result of hard negotiation with Cameron will be delighted as his policies will create a new army of the unemployed desperate to grab even the minimum wage jobs on offer and terrified of putting a foot wrong. But then, of course, Dave has never needed to worry about finding another job - not when Buckingham Palace are prepared to put in a good word for you in advance of your job interview. Unfortunately, not everyone leads the effortlessly charmed life of Dave and his mates.

At best, these proposals are window-dressing, tinkering round the edges in lieu of a real policy for growth and tilting at windmills rather than getting on with the business of Britain. At worst, these are changes that are demonstrably unfair and morally indefensible. Not for the first time, members of this government should be ashamed of themselves and I hope that Labour commits to protecting the rights of workers as part of our next manifesto, with rolling back these changes a key part.

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