Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sacking with CONfidence - Part 4

Continuing an occasional, but all too frequent, series on the Coalition's "reform" of employment law in Britain.

Capitalism to "Inspire" - you really couldn't make it up!
Yesterday we were treated to a chilling insight on how the Conservatives view British employees and their rights. A report on employment laws and their impact on the economy, commissioned by Chancellor George Osborne and supported by David Cameron, was leaked. Written by Tory supporting venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft, who has enriched himself to the tune of £85 millions in spite of the apparent encumbrance of UK employment law, it uses the most lurid and vituperative terms about British workers and the alleged need to bring us all the heel.

The report blames Britain's economic woes on the supposed inability of employers to fire people at will if they are underperforming. Beecroft wants a "compulsory no fault dismissal" system whereby employees can be fired without redress to an employment tribunal via a simple payment equivalent to the state redundancy payment (currently a maximum of £400 for each year of service). So, if after working for an employer for 10 years, your boss decided you were not performing well enough, Beecroft's view is that there should be no need to undergo any particular process of identifying and warning about the performance issues - if your company gives you £4,000, it is straightforward curtains to your career.

The report goes on further to make a list of complaints about employment protection given to the tens of millions of us who are employees (over 85% of the workforce!) which demonstrates lamentable prejudice, ignorance and pretty sloppy research (or lack of it) by Beecroft:

Beecroft donated £530k to the Tory Party: cheaper staff
could free up so much more!
- it demands  that employers should be able to have off-the-record discussions with employees with whom they are in dispute. They already can! Current employment law already allows without prejudice discussions in disputes which cannot be entered as evidence in tribunal proceedings.

- Beecroft complains that employers can't ask employees if they intend to retire and grumbles that this slows down recruitment and labour flexibility, apparently damaging the wealth of the nation. Again, employers can already do this! You can read the guidance from ACAS about how to do this in a fair and safe way HERE.

- Beecroft complains that the new rules protecting agency workers from summary dismissal and exploitative low pay arrangements will disadvantage Britain in the global economy. Yet he ignores the fact that the rules have come about as part of a European-wide directive and have to be the same in our nearest competitors.

All in all, it is a bigoted, ill-informed rant against the relatively low levels of protection enjoyed by British workers. And while some Lib Dems try to disassociate themselves from it, Nick Clegg made strikingly similarly ill-informed comments about performance and retirement only the day before - who knows what he's been reading lately?

It is easier, cheaper and faster for employers to fire British workers than in most western economies and it is disingenuous for employers and top managers to lay the blame for our woes at the feet of ordinary workers. While most employees have seen their pay static and reducing in real and even absolute terms over the last two or three years, Boardroom pay and bonuses have continued to climb relentlessly.

The Business Secretary, Lib Dem Vince Cable, has rejected the report today, insisting workers need protection otherwise their job insecurity will affect their spending and damage the wider economy. This sounds good until you reflect that Vince and his Lib Dem Minister, Ed Davey, are at the same time busy removing employment protection from millions of workers who will now have to work for two years rather than one before they will be protected from unfair dismissal. This is being done using very similar arguments as Beecroft does about labour flexibility. It was also Cable's department that rushed out a so-called Employer's Charter, quickly re-christened as a "sacker's checklist" last year to remind employers just how easily they can already dismiss staff. It makes the bad part of you wonder if the leak of the extreme Beecroft worldview was deliberately done to make Cable's current plans appear a little milder by comparison - but surely they wouldn't do that, would they?

The absence of trade unions from most of the British workplace has never been more in evidence. Employees face a difficult time ahead as first their employment and, coming up next, sickness protection are whittled away by people who in many cases have never really held down a normal type of job.  Capitalism, yet again, is busy blaming and punishing others for its own failings - biting back, like the cornered rat that it truly is.

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