Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Coalition Government's first attack on employment rights

Lord Young of Graffham may not have managed to hold on to his position as enterprise advisor to the Coalition Government following his “we have never had it so good” comments but his legacy should be of great concern to trade unions, their members and their families.

On 27th January the Department for Business Innovation and Skills launched the publication Resolving workplace disputes – A consultation. Despite the sentiments on the website that the purpose of the consultation was to seek views on how to develop a more effective and user friendly Employment Tribunals service it is nothing more than an attack on the rights of workers.

If we were ever in any doubt that this is a business-friendly, low regulation Coalition Government then this consultation serves as a stark reminder of the Government’s contempt for working class people.

Before his departure Lord Young hinted that he was minded to extend the qualifying period for unfair dismissal from one year to two but the consultation goes much further and proposes;
  • introducing costs for taking claims against employers to tribunal,
  • an increased use of pre-claim conciliation through ACAS,
  • automatic financial penalties for employers breaching employment rights,
  • extending the types of cases where judges can sit alone to include unfair dismissal cases,
  • removing the general requirement for tripartite panels in the Employment Appeals Tribunals;
  • reviewing the formula for calculating employment tribunal awards and statutory redundancy payment limits – we can assume that this will be downwards.

If these changes are introduced this would strike right at the heart of our employment tribunals, a tripartite system that relies on the skills and experience of trade union and employer representatives in addition to legally trained judges.

These proposals are not just about cost savings - they will make it easier for employers to dismiss workers and make it harder for claimants to access justice.

At the same time as this attack on workers rights the Government launched their long awaited Employers CharterApparently the balance of rights has tilted too much in favour of the employee.  Yes, this really is the view of the Government taken from the Number 10 website and their 11 point Charter aims to redress this.

In the absence of any mention or advice for workers, the STUC has developed its own Better Way Charter for Workers Rights to outline how we would expect workers to be treated in the Big (but hardly fair) society the coalition is promoting.

Ian Tasker - STUC

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