• Robert Spicer

Employment law reform

Employment law advisers in Bristol, and throughout the United Kingdom, need to be aware of the following proposals put forward by the government:

  • From next April, employees will only be allowed to complain of unfair dismissal after two years continuous employment, instead of the current rquirement of one year.

  • Fees will be introduced for claims to employment tribunals.

  • Firms employing 10 people or less will be exempt from claims for unfair dismissal.

These changes will significantly weaken the legal position of employees. Advisers are aware that UK employment law, despite its complexity and imperfections, generally operates to protect employees from the worst abuses of their employers.

This protection has not been generously granted by employers. It is the result of decades of struggle by working people to improve their position.

The government now seeks to go down the American “hire and fire” road. It seeks to lay the blame for the current economic debacle on workers’ legal rights. This can only be characterised as a vile slander on the British working class.

The government is able, with the support of the Liberal Democrats, to tamper with these aspects of employment law because the rules dealing with unfair dismissal and employment tribunal procedure are British creations. There remain large areas of employment protection, for example discrimination law, which are basically European in origin and which cannot be dilutes so long as the UK remains signed up to European Union employment laws.

Employment law advisers, when the changes are introduced, will need to be more creative in their approach to standing firm on employees’ rights. Claims which were previously brought under the umbrella of unfair dismissal may now be considered in a fresh light, for example as discrimination issues, harassment or personal injury claims.

Employment advisers who seek to preserve employees’ rights have duty to oppose the government proposals. There must be no return to Victorian employment practices.

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