Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Sacking With CONfidence: The Epilogue - "You're Fired!"

This is the last in an occasional series of blogs on the Coalition Government's assault on employment rights - the rights that give all of us just a tiny bit more security against pernicious treatment and even summary dismissal from our livelihoods.

It is the last because the assault is over and, I am sorry to say, the Lib Dem/Conservative has had its way. All of us who are employees - which is about 85% of the working population - are substantially less well protected than before 2010.

Since then, with the piss-taking pseudo-leftwing Lib Dem Vince Cable at the helm of employment "reforms", the Government first off extended from one to two years the length of time someone has to work for an employer before they are protected against unfair dismissal. Let's get that in perspective: at any time in the first 24 months of working for an employer, you can be dismissed for absolutely no reason at all. Your manager doesn't like you? You're fired! You come in late because the bus was cancelled? You're fired! Your boss doesn't like the colour of your jacket? You're fired!

And you've absolutely no comeback. Nada! Zilch! Forget the Daily Mail stories about pots of gold in compensation - you're out and you're not coming back; you've not got a penny and who will ever employ you again, a sacked worker?

As long as you survive two years in a job, you do finally acquire the right to not be unfairly dismissed. Note - unfairly. Because always, under all employment protection laws, employers have always had a right to fairly dismiss you. So, if you are persistently late, and you are warned not to be, you could be fired fairly. If you steal or assault a colleague, you could be fired fairly - as long as you were given the right to respond to any accusations against you and the employer's decision to dismiss was based on a reasonable assessment of the balance of probabilities: proof beyond reasonable doubt was never required, just a fair investigation and a meeting to hear the employee's side.

How would something as plainly reasonable as this constitute the shocking red tape strangling our apparently cowed entrepreneurs that Cable and co made out it was? Yet almost from Day One, with his Employers' Charter, he was busy reminding employers of how easy it was to get rid of people - and promising to make it even easier. He restored the qualifying period to the level Margaret Thatcher set it at. And more, much more than that.

In the past, if you were dismissed, you could seek redress for being unfairly dismissed if you had twelve months' service (back in the 1970s, it was six months). You could go to an Employment Tribunal, which would hear your case and your employers, and if it found in your favour, it could award recompense. Contrary to the handful of unusual settlements for large sums of money, most awards were low: on average, rarely more than £9,500 with the median award around £4,500 even although you had been found to have unfairly lost your employment.

But this was still too much for Cable. So he brought in a new barrier to workplace justice: at the same time as he viciously restricted the already small amount of legal aid available for employment cases, he introduced charges to lodge a case. If someone wants to pursue an unfair dismissal claim now, they need to pay a minimum fee of £400 - even although logic dictates that in many cases, dismissed and out of work, the complainant will not have this money, or at least not be able to afford it. And, even worse, if their complaint is about discrimination on grounds of sex, race, disability, religion or sexual orientation, then although you can bring a case even before two years' service, you have to pay a fee up to 300% higher than the unfair dismissal fee: over £1,200.

Some remissions of charges are permitted for the very poorest, but if your household has more than just £3,000 in savings, you have to pay in full  - and evidence shows that this very disproportionately affects women. This is borne out further by the fact that of all categories of cases, the fall in sex discrimination claims is the highest. Similarly, there has been a 68% fall in claims for non-payment of wages; when workers have to pay £390 to pursue such a claim, can you imagine why the numbers have fallen?

Percentage fall in tribunal claims by type of claim
Type of claim Fall in claims
Sex discrimination 77%
Disability 58%
Race 57%
Sexual orientation 75%
Age 63%
Religion and belief 60%
Pregnancy related dismissal 59%
Equal treatment rights for part-time workers 79%

So, let's recap: if you are dismissed because the boss didn't share your sense of humour or you got him the wrong sandwich at lunchtime, you pay £390 to take a case forward. That's bad enough. But if you were sacked because you refused to sleep with the boss, you have to find £1,200. But of course, Cable hails from the institutionally sexist and bullying-riddled Lib Dems, so its easy to see where the mindset originates for this sort of "justice". He also knows quite a bit about charges and fines although in his case he has us to bail him out.

And the outcome of the new tribunal charges?

Well, after just 12 months in operation, the new rules have delivered what Cable and the Conservatives wanted. The employers' organisation the CBI has welcomed the Government's "unclogging" of tribunals and now The laughingly titled Ministry of Justice has reported that there has been a 79% decline in the number of employment tribunal cases. Four out of five claims have been stopped in their tracks.
Little wonder. And shame on Clegg, Cameron and co for claiming to support "hard-working parents" and "alarm clock Britain." Now earning 10% less now than pre-recession, never in forty years have these hard-working people been more vulnerable and less protected against the whims of their profit-seeking employers.

And no one gains, no one but the already cash-soaked corporations that dole out billions in bonuses and dividends off the backs of increasingly marginalised workers and exploited consumers. The majority - the vast majority - of us see our rights diminished, our security reduced and our livelihoods ever more dependent on the random goodwill of employers rather than the basic reassurance of a modicum of employee rights. It is hardly a recipe for a happy, productive workplace or a successful country.

Vince - hasn't always paid his own charges promptly.
But the alarm clock will soon be ringing for the Cabinet of Millionaires: in just over one year, it will be time for the 85% of us who are employees to sling these duplicitous charlatans out without notice and tell the Con Dems, "You're fired!"

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