Speaking at EEF today Business Secretary Vince Cable announced that government is to undertake a radical review of employment legislation with a view to making recruitment, management and dismissal less onerous for employers while protecting employee rights.
Dr Cable was pleased to announce that government research now indicates the number of employers who view employment legislation as a significant barrier to business success now stands at around 3% but acknowledged that there was still a great deal of unnecessary red tape and a culture of fear, particularly among micro and small firms, about the risks of taking on staff.
Dr Cable stressed that the review of legislation was not a signal to employers that they would have “an easy ride” or that government condones a “hire and fire culture.”
Employment tribunals are the focus of much of the review and there is a call for evidence from all interested parties on a number of issues including potential procedures for ‘protected conversations’ and what Dr Cable described as a “Rapid Resolution Scheme”. The aim of the large majority of proposed reforms is to circumvent the tribunal process entirely and promote the resolution or settlement of claims through non-legal routes.
A claimant fee for instigating a tribunal has been proposed, though there will be some exemptions to this fee. The change is designed to discourage vexatious claims. All claimants will be required to apply for guidance and information to the government agency ACAS before embarking on tribunal.
In pilot schemes Employment Minister Ed Davey said that this information process had reduced the number of claims taken to tribunal by as much as 50%, though government anticipates that a nationwide application would have a more modest effect of a 25% reduction.
Perhaps of particular interest to the manufacturing community which has a history of collective redundancies, Dr Cable announced that government is putting forward a proposal that the ‘protected’ or ‘consultation’ period of 90 days after the intention of collective redundancy has been announced should be reduced to a minimum of 30 days.
Terry Scuoler, CEO of EEF welcomed this intention while Roger Jury, representing Unite the Union was outraged at the intention.
As part of an ongoing review period Dr Cable stated that government will undertake a review of the laws and administration around the recently instigated Agency Worker Directive which some employers have said is already causing undue financial and administrative costs and reducing their ability to maintain flexible working arrangements.
A frequent employer criticism of the AWD is the complexity involved in supplying fit for purpose comparators for permanent and temporary pay. Mr Cable said that review of this legislation would be likely in 18 months time.
Summing up the intention of the review process Mr Davey said “We need to change the idea that you have to go to the law to resolve a dispute.” He said that the government’s proposals and the calls for evidence in response aim to create a change in culture toward “doing the right thing” and greater trust. “People need to be able to have adult, mature conversations without fear” he said.
Despite the positive intention governments proposals however many present found the concept of ‘protected conversations’ over employment issues controversial. My Jury said that it set a stage for “legalised bullying” in the workplace. Dr Cable responded by emphasizing that government is far from legislating for the proposed changes and will welcome all evidence submitted by interested parties as to the workability of the proposals.