Tomorrow, Britain will be set back 13 years

12th March, 2012 2:06 pm

The Government’s efforts to double the unfair dismissal qualifying period from one year to two years takes a large step towards reality.

Working people in Britain ought to be seriously worried.  Their working lives are about to become more insecure.

Rather than be upfront about this move, tomorrow the government will sneakily push through this major change in employment law without a debate in the House of Commons.

Instead, a ‘statutory instrument’ will be used, allowing the outcome to be decided among the maze of Commons’ committee rooms.

As the country’s biggest union we have plenty of reasons to worry for the nation’s workers. According to the TUC, some 2.7 million employees will now work in fear of dismissal with no protection under the law for two years.

In the middle of the worst economic crisis for a generation, with unemployment over 2.5 million, it is perverse to argue that making it easier for bad bosses to sack workers on a whim – creating a hire and fire culture – is good for the economy.

Particularly badly hit will be young workers.  If they are lucky enough to find a job in Coalition Britain, they will then be constantly looking over their shoulder, worried about being sacked when their face doesn’t fit at any time in their first two years.

The workplace will no longer have an entry and an exit, hopefully with a career path in between, but a revolving door pushing people in and out of work in a dizzying fashion.

That is why we are urging MPs to vote against the statutory instrument tomorrow.  When even Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, says that slashing employment rights will do nothing to boost the economy,  then it is time to seriously question this government’s motives.

Liberal Democrat MPs should be annoyed. Their party’s reputation is being further sullied by such a clear appeasement of the grumbling Tory backwoodsmen on the green benches.

Keen to conjure up a distraction from the abysmal unemployment figures and the lack of a `compelling narrative’ on the economy, Tory strategists are cooking up a synthetic rage against workers’ rights.

Next they will go for ‘no fault dismissals’, meaning organisations employing fewer than ten people will be free to sack workers for no good reason.

Plans to charge workers for taking a case to a tribunal will also make it harder for employees to make claims.

And the introduction of ‘protected conversations’ for employers will allow for bosses to bully, threaten and discriminate against staff without fear of such action being observed or used in any subsequent tribunal claim by a worker.

Together with the coalition’s savage restrictions on entitlement to legal aid, and its snipping away at health and safety protections, this government is taking working Britain back to the dark ages.

The manner in which this government is making use of the global recession to systematically take apart the four pillars of our society  – access to justice, welfare, education and health – is both breathtaking and terrifying.

MPs must now ask themselves: is this what we were elected to do?  Are we making Britain a fairer place? Will these measures create one single job?

If the answer to any of these is no, then you know what you must do.  Take a stand this Tuesday. Then, gather your courage and join with working people and their unions as we fight to hang onto what remains of justice in this country.

Len McCluskey is the General Secretary of Unite

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  • derek

    @Len, well said!
    I’m just totally flabbergasted that this government is getting away with it’s cruelty and ideological drive.

    • Dave Postles

       Second, third and fourth that, Derek.  It’s abominable.  I’m all for the success of SMEs, but they should adhere to proper regulatory frameworks for employment.  SMEs are sometimes devoid of management training and proper HR functions and they should not be encouraged to take a capricious approach to employment.  If you wish to appoint someone, the responsibility rests with you to make proper arrangements for recruitment and selection and to offer proper contractual arrangements.  Sacking someone because you do not like them is not ethical employment procedure.

  • Good to see some opposition to the Tory-led government.

  • Duncan Hall

    When you bear in mind the complete absence of any sort of mandate that this government could lay claim to, it is quite astonishing how many absolutely fundamental changes they are pushing through.

    They are engaged in a savage ideological attack of a sort rarely seen.  It is essential that the Labour Party treats it as such, and does not allow the government to appear at any point as reasonable or pragmatic.

    • madasafish

      When you bear in mind the complete absence of any sort of mandate that this government could lay claim to, it is quite astonishing how many absolutely fundamental changes they are pushing through.”

      You obviously never read their manifesto..They did say they would “reduce the regulatory burden..on businesses…”

      •  It’s not that it was or wasn’t in the manifesto, it’s that Lib Dem leaders went into coalition with Conservatives and mandated changes to the law against the wishes of their own party members – hence the absence of mandate that Duncan refers to.

      • Dave Postles

         Coalition programme:
         ‘We will review employment and workplace laws, for employers and employees, to    ensure they maximise flexibility for both parties while protecting fairness and    providing the competitive environment required for enterprise to thrive.’

        Fairness?  I fail to see what is fair about removing legal aid and eroding employees’ rights unilaterally without due regard for ‘both parties’.  At least Cable, in his better moments, recognizes the futility of the policy.  It will be interesting to see how the Treasury/PM overrule BIS.

    • GuyM

      Lack of mandate?

      Apart from a higher share of the vote than Blair got in 2005.

      Apart from commanding a majority in the house of commons?

      Apart from stating clearly in the manifesto they would deregulate?

  • AnotherOldBoy

    Classic misunderstanding of how employment works.  If you are an employer (particularly an SME) thinking about whether to take on a  new employee, the possible downside of doing so includes the risk of a claim for unfair dismissal.  One reason why the USA has bounced back is that its labour market is different from ours: it is easier to make people redundant and so, crucially, less risky to take on new employees.

    Italian workers have fantastic rights.  But the jobs are few and far between these days.

    You can always count on Mr McCluskey to be absurdly wrong-headed!

    • Dave Postles

       A tribunal decides if it is an unfair dismissal.  If it is an unfair dismissal, then it is an unfair dismissal.  In the future (not the cliche of going forward in business-speak), access to the tribunals will be weakened by the removal of legal aid.  Most employers have a probationary period already.  You want to shift all the risk onto the employee so that the employee can be dismissed on a whim.  You have the opportunity of the recruitment and selection arrangement and the probationary period (which is effectively the first year)  to make the assessment.  You are using the current financial, fiscal and economic conditions to reduce employees’ rights.  Don’t blame all employees for poor management skills if and when that is the issue. 

      • AnotherOldBoy

        The tribunal does decide.  But an employer who fights a claim has to spend time (and money, usually) doing so and will not usually recover his costs if he wins.

        I am not blaming any employees for poor management skills: I am looking at the reality of deciding whether or not to recruit.  Enhanced employment rights can reduce the opportunities for work.

        • Dave Postles

          ‘ Enhanced employment rights can reduce the opportunities for work.’
          IMHO, they are hardly ‘enhanced’; they are basic – the right not to be dismissed on a whim.  If you have to solve the issue of employment by erosion of employees’ rights, then it is hardly worth the candle.  Employees will have to work under duress, responsive to any demand from their employer, however unreasonable.  It is inhumane to reduce employees to fear of dismissal at any moment because of management dislike, irritation, bullying, harassment, potentially resulting in illness. 
          I use SMEs at every opportunity (windows, building work, PC kit, pharmacy, gates etc etc), but I do not wish the employees of those SMEs to live in anxiety.  The way to help SMEs to recruit is: (i) raise the level for VAT qualification; (ii) allow looser book-keeping practices for the smallest SMEs; (iii) NI waiver for one year; (iv) all of us to buy from SMEs at every opportunity.  Penalizing their workforce is not desirable, IMHO.  In return, request them to purchase their goods and supplies which are provenanced as far as possible in the UK (e.g. cars and vans).

  • The use of Statutory Instruments to draw up regulations is a very undemocratic process and must be stopped from being used as a much needed democratic reform. Ministers tend to use unauthorised regulatory powers to also avoid impact assessments by simply saying they are not required and only a judicial review can change things. The parliamentary committee that overlooks SIs and Orders in Council must be more alert to the misuse of these instruments in direct contravention to primary legislations

  • JoeDM

    About time too.   These are the sort of laws that keep people out of  jobs.  No good solid worker need fear this change.    Small companies are terrified of the cost of being taken to one of these tribunals.

    We do need to have the Beercroft report implemented in full.

    • Dave Postles

      Implementing Beecroft – a joke, right?  I though that, with Hilton going, this sort of absurdity had had its time.

    • Good solid companies need not fear any tribunal.

      • Winston_from_the_Ministry

         Nothing to hide nothing to fear eh?

        If only it were true. For a small business one vindictive action can be a major problem.

        Massive corporations, you may be right.

        • All manner of things can present major problems – that’s part of the challenge of running a business. But nothing has hindered U.K. businesses more than dismal management skills. That’s the real problem – a culture of idiocy.

          • Winston_from_the_Ministry

             Very true, but it doesn’t mean your original statment is correct.

  • Apparently this will save the economy.  Realistically, all this will do is see our graduates opt to leave for Australia rather than sit here and be exploited.  These laws are fine if you have very little skill.  But as soon as valuable skills come into play there is a very real financial motive for employers to start playing very dirty indeed.

    And yes our graduates will leave for better climbs elsewhere as word spreads of what is being done to them.

  • Peter Barnard

    @ Len McCLuskey,
    “Tomorrow, Britain will be set back 13 years.”
    And the Conservatives are working on the additional 100 years, to take us back to 1899 …

  • Steven Smith

    Making it easier  to fire people makes workers more fearful of losing their jobs . People who are scared of losing their jobs tend to save money not spend it . So the level of effective demand goes down and the people who produce the goods and services that are no longer being bought lose their jobs ; so their spending goes down too and off we go into a vicious circle of  rising unemployment ,depressed consumer confidence and non-existent growth .Number of people in the Cabinet with a qualification in economics ? Just the one (Cable ) ; and it sure  does show …

  • Chrisstiles10

    I would never wish to be in a situation the USA is in, your example is poor as there is also no NHS to speak of in the USA and illegal migrant workers can be sacked and deported if they’re found out yet employers don’t get into trouble for employing them. The system you speak of does nothing for the majority of people in that country other than take from them, it only benefits the rich 1%. McCluskey is right, well said Len!


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