Thursday, 3 February 2011

Sacking with CONfidence (Part 2) - The Employers' Charter

Just an update following on from last week's post about the Government's plans to double the period of time people will have to work without employment protection from 1 to 2 years.

The Government apparently also feels employers should be reminded of just how far they can push their workers under existing legislation - no need to wait for legal changes. Cable has issued an Employer's Charter pinpointing all the stuff employers can already do with relative impunity - so why he also feels the need to reduce coverage of employment protection, God and David Cameron alone know. Presumably it is either a throwback to his days running corporations like Shell or simply an ideological move intended to maximise "employment flexibility" (this from a man whose careless gossip a few weeks ago would have put him out of a job had he committed his misconduct in any normal workplace).

So, just in case you are an employer who has forgotten what you can do, here is Vicious Vince's timely reminder:

"As an employer - as long as you act fairly and reasonably - you are entitled to:
- ask an employee to take their annual leave at a time that suits your business
- contact a woman on maternity leave and ask when she plans to return
- make an employee redundant if your business takes a downward turn
- ask an employee to take a pay cut
- withhold pay from an employee when they are on strike
- ask an employee whether they would be willing to opt-out from the 48 hour limit in the Working Time Regulations
- reject an employee's request to work flexibly if you have a legitimate business reason
- talk to your employees about their performance and about how they can improve
- dismiss an employee for poor performance
- stop providing work to an agency worker (as long as they are not employed by you)
- ask an employee about their future career plans, including retirement." 

Careless talk costs jobs - except in Cable's case
The inclusion of the opt-out from the 48 hour working time directive is notable in that Britain's exemption from European law on maximum working hours has long been a cri de coeur of the Lib Dems: their European MPs have repeatedly voted against any attempt to reform it to reduce Britain's long hours culture and bring us in to line with the rest of Europe. This emphasis is definitely not one they can blame on the Tories - Mr Cable is simply showing his party's true colours.

It is deeply questionable as to why anyone thinks this guidance is even remotely required. There is even a printer-friendly version, designed like a little poster - perhaps for laminating and then posting on noticeboards to remind staff of their position or scare them into compliance - a bit like these old Victorian factory notices setting out fines for talking or working too slowly.

The Good Old Days?
Issued at a time when more and more jobs are being lost and workers feel increasingly vulnerable, employers seem on the whole already more than fully aware of their powers.Yet pandering to right wing mythology, Cable's missive has been sent out along with a letter from David Cameron stressing how important it is to butter up big business by sacrificing employees' rights - notwithstanding the fact that Mr Cable's Charter somewhat undermines the Prime Ministerial picture of workplaces where employers' are tangled up in intractably thick forests of workers' rights.

"Speak to businesses and they’ll say something else: that the balance of rights is tilted far too much in favour of employees over employers. They say it’s become far too difficult to hire and fire workers, and far too easy for those workers to make unscrupulous claims against them. This not only costs our businesses a lot of money – on average around £4,000 for defending a tribunal case - but takes up a huge amount of time and effort too. Vitally, it makes businesses think twice before taking people on.
I’m determined we shift some of that balance back." - David Cameron

Good to see some 1980s "balance" in the workplace again. Isn't it? (Though, it has to be noted, all these powers were already in place under the Nu-Labour Government).

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