Yet another update on the right-wing populist and often ignorantly uninformed slaughter of employment law and protection of employees in Britain.
So yesterday we were treated to the spectacle of Mrs Windsor, who has never attended a job interview in her life but who has a pretty mean track record when it comes to maltreatment of her staff in the low wage Royal Household, informing us how her Government intends to create more flexibility for employers. This will give them even more opportunities to rip off customers and staff alike by making it even easier for people to be dismissed without any chance of recompense. Lizzie's family has already got form in trying to break employment tribunal rules and withhold legal evidence, so it seems she is happy for her Ministers to make life a bit easier for the likes of her son in future employment disputes.
Not content with doubling from one to two years the period of time employees new to a company can be dismissed for absolutely no reason at all, the Con Dem Government has brought forward a series of measures to make it much harder for people who have been dismissed to raise any complaint at an Employment Tribunal. the quality of the legislation mooted in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill betrays the fact that the legislation is pretty much about Tory prejudice against all employment rights rather than a serious attempt to reform the law.
|Get to work and be grateful, peasants!|
For example, in the name of reducing the number of tribunals, people pursuing a complaint will have to first lodge their complaint with ACAS in an attempt to reach a conciliated settlement. This appears to be in total ignorance of the fact that this already happens - all tribunal claims are automatically lodged with ACAS and a conciliation officer is appointed to try to broker a solution. If what is perhaps implied here is that there is a new stage of conciliation via ACAS before you can even lodge a claim to a tribunal, this suggests a number of inbuilt flaws, which probably combine hostility towards employees with a lack of understanding of how the current system works.
1. If the conciliation stage is a separate phase to the tribunal complaint, this seems to be adding to red tape rather than reducing it.
2. Tribunal awards usually pay compensation for loss of earnings to successful complainants for the period of time from the end of employment to the conclusion of the tribunal process. An additional phase of conciliation will extend this period of time, which means either employers face higher costs at the end if an employee is successful OR the Government is going to reduce the amount of compensation available even when a claim of unfair dismissal is successful - any ideas which option this Government might take?
3. Nearly two-thirds of employment tribunal complaints are already conciliated - half by ACAS and the rest privately. Few people enjoy taking their employer to a tribunal - I know, having been involved on both sides often enough - so the conciliation process is already pretty effective. Dragging things out when conciliation is not possible will simply make the process much harder on many levels for both sides - but perhaps the Government calculation is that this will deter people from asserting their rights even when they have been bullied or harassed out of their livelihoods - so much for justice.
4. The tribunal system is in much need of reform: it works essentially for two groups alone - lawyers and people with tenuous claims. People who have genuinely lost their jobs unfairly get piss poor awards averaging less than £9,000 - the fantastic six figure sums touted with some furious fanfare in the likes of the Daily Mail are news precisely because they are few and far between. However, the current round of so-called reform will do little to change this. Instead, it will simply deter yet further people in vulnerable situations from asserting what tiny amount of power they have in the employment relationship, which remains even now governed at its core by the ancient laws of Master and Servant.
In the despair of the Lib Dem wing of the Coalition, a few of their number have suggested that they might not be so enthusiastic about these new proposals, but let it not be forgotten that the most pernicious changes to employment rights so far have been driven forward by Lib Dem Ministers in the name of cutting red tape, and even their adjustments to existing laws on family leave (actually a confirmation of plans put in place by the Labour Government pre-2010) include a reduction in maternity leave rights for expectant mothers.
But then, the Lib Dems have been weak on employment rights for people for a long time now, ignoring the fact that over 85% of the workforce are employees and so the protections afforded against arbitrary dismissal are important to a large number of us ordinary mortals. In 2005, Clegg's predecessor, the supposedly social democratic Charles Kennedy fought the General Election on a platform of seeking "a bonfire of the red tape" that allegedly stifles employment in the UK.
Seven years ago, in my final days of Lib Dem membership, I was irate about reading that their MEPs were supporting the continuation of the British opt-out of the European Working Time Directive, which has prevented workers from having to work excessive hours across the Continent - apart from in Britain thanks to the opt-out negotiated by the Tories in 1992. I wrote to the then leader of the Lib Dem MEPs, Chris Davies. His reply could easily have come from any Tory backbencher, so packed it was with prejudice against workers - and it was the final thing, of many, which tipped me into leaving and joining the Greens.
The text is below: so, don't let anyone fool you - the legislative drive to weaken our employment security in the middle of a recession is very much the offspring of both parts of this most poisonous regime, which seems to view its own citizens as its enemy.
(bold italics are my emphases)
Sent: 13 May 2005 14:54
Subject: Working time regulations
Subject: Working time regulations
Dear Chris Davies,
I have been a member of the Liberal Democrats and our predecessor parties for 27 years and am writing to you after reading about our MEP's vote against the proposed changes to the EU working time regulations this week, including your own criticisms on your website about the vote to end the 48 hours maximum average working week opt-out.
I am surprised and disappointed by the Lib Dem MEPs approach to the proposed changes. I am also quite baffled by your comments that most people work a 37 hour week in the UK, but as a point of principle, people should be able to choose to work longer.
The fact is that most recent surveys indicate the averge working week in Britain is actually around 42 hours and, as I am sure you must be aware of, a "long hours culture" exists in many industries, especially among lower paid workers. While, since slavery is illegal, as a legal technicality they may "choose" to work longer than their contracted hours, the fact is that very often they have no realistic choice if they wish to avoid punitive action against them by their employer. A recent TUC survey found that less than 1-in-3 people who regularly work more than 48 hours per week have ever been asked to sign the legally required opt-out and there have been instances of people being told they had to sign the opt-out a a condition of their employment. To suggest therefore that "choice" enters into the equation for the vast majority of people who are expected to work long hours is quite frankly misguided.
The regulations as proposed would average the working week over an entire year - it is not as if people could never work more than 48 hours in any one week, or even for quite prolonged periods. It simply requires that over a full year, people do not work more than this on average. I don't know about you, but if I had a relative requiring care, or was myself being driven on a bus or train, I would feel very concerned if the person administering drugs or driving the bus/train had really been working more than 48 hours that week and had been doing so routinely. In addition, regular long hours of work make the worker more prone to both short-term illnesses such as flu or colds from a reduced immune system and longer terms diseases such as diabetes and heart condtions, which can be of little good to the worker, or, for that matter, their employer in the long run.
I am quite astonished that Lib Dems are taking such a stance - where is the care about people that we have campaigned on for years (remember "People First"?)? Liberals were among the first, decades ago, to introduce health and safety requirements to the workplace, tackling both moral and productivity issues at the same time. I regret deeply that this no longer seems to be the case - as additionally evidenced last autumn when the federal conference voted against holding mulitinationals to ILO standards in the employment of some of the most vulnerable people on this planet.
You may argue that you agree with all that I have said, but that the core of your argument is about subsidiarity. However, given that Britain is widely seen as a low wage, low regulated economy, is it little surprise that other EU states might want our opt-out to be ended given the unfair competitive advantage this gives to our corporate shareholders over those in other countries in what is meant to be a single market? What happened to our long trumpeted call on the Major Government to sign up to the Social Chapter with all the labour protection that envisaged? Was it our policy to sign up as long as we could opt out? I don't remember it being so and I fail to see what has changed.
I implore you and the other MEPs to revise your view on this and similar employment protection measures. Seeking to protect our people from the demands of employers who in most cases have as their sole objective profit maximisation is well within the long traditions of both liberalism and social democracy. It is also one, given that most people are employees, which would not be electorally damaging as long as you do not portray this as something which limits people's ability to act for themselves, which in all truth it is not.
I must stress I write as a Personnel & Training Manager who has worked in the residential care industry for 15 years now. I do not find complying with these regulations, including the end of the opt-out, as a difficulty and any company that did struggle with them would quite frankly be one which was not functioning effectively at all.
I hope to hear from you.
Friday, 20 May 2005, 10:53
Chris Davies MEP
As am MP in 1996 I introduced a Bill in to the House of Commons calling for greater employee protection within the UK.
My reason for supporting the British opt-out of the EU Working Time Directive is entirely on subsidiarity grounds.
If people want strict controls over working hours at the risk of loss of competivity then they should vote for Government to introduce it. I do not believe that measures of this kind should be set as EU standard.
It would be hard to find a more pro-European politician than myself, but if Liberal Democrats do not respect our own belief that decisions should always be taken at the lowest practicable level then we will have no hope in convincing others of the merits of the European case.
The Working Time Directive was introduced using the Health and Safety legal basis. We have supported its application where this is relevant (lorry drivers, doctors etc) but it's application in other instances is I believe illegitimate.
Chris Davies MEP.