It has been announced recently that the coalition Government is seriously considering new employment laws that would effectively make it more difficult for an employee to bring a claim of unfair dismissal against his or her employer. If you have been following our journal over recent months, you may recall how we touched on the massive increase in employment tribunals being brought by disgruntled employees against their employers – in fact, the latest statistics show that 218,000 tribunals were heard last year, and there has been a 40% increase in tribunals over the last three years.
Everyone will agree that something had to be done about these huge figures – after all, 218,000 tribunals in one year is hardly good for the economy. However, the GMB Union and many other people believe that the latest proposals being put forward by the Government are only going to make matters worse for employees.
Proposals include making it far more difficult for employees who work for a firm with a workforce of fewer than 10 staff to bring a tribunal against their employer. Also, it is being recommended to double the current requirement of one year’s full service before entitlement to bring a claim of unfair dismissal against an employer.
As unemployment is at a 17-year high at the moment, many believe that such a move in employment law could simply add fuel to this fire. Although Vince Cable, MP for Twickenham and Business Secretary, has claimed that all employment law changes will be intended to help the economy grow at this very difficult time, very few agree with this sentiment.
Simply put, it would make it easier for an employer to get rid of its staff, and even more worrying, many cases of victimisation, bullying in the workplace and unfairness would simply be swept under the carpet, leaving the employer to get away with such behaviour and possibly do exactly the same to other members of the workforce.
One bit of real sense that seems to have emerged from the latest proposals is the possibility of ensuring that all such employment law cases are sent to ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) before they would be permitted to reach a tribunal stage. At a time when the number of employment tribunals is getting out of hand, this does actually seem to make sense. Only when ACAS is unable to resolve the matter should the case be permitted to escalate to the tribunal stage, which should be a very rare circumstance.
Obviously, we can all read between the lines here, and it is easy to see that these latest employment law change proposals are yet another way of trying to save money. But when you consider what the astronomical cost must be to the country for 218,000 employment tribunals every year, we would all have to agree that something drastic has to be done.
It would appear that nobody is denying that employment law needs to be reformed very quickly. The economy needs a real kick to encourage more businesses to hire people, and this is exactly what the Government is claiming these reforms will be for. However, the fact that it will become much easier for businesses to get rid of their staff is the main concern at the moment; the erosion of employees’ rights in the workplace is very high on the agenda here.