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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Employment law reforms

Anyone giving legal advice in Bristol, and more specifically those providing employment law advice, needs to be aware that the scope of their expertise is likely to be significantly affected by the proposals put forward by the government in November 2010. If, or perhaps when, the proposals are put into effect, employment protection for workers will be drastically curtailed. The proposals include:

  • An increase in the qualification period for unfair dismissal claims from one to two years.

  • The introduction of fees for employment tribunal claims.

  • Amendment of the whistleblowing legislation to exclude claims arising from personal work contracts.

  • A requirement that all employment disputes are referred to ACAS before they proceed to an employment tribunal.

  • Compromise agreements to be simplified and known as settlement agreements.

  • Witness statements in employment tribunal proceedings will be taken as read, expenses for witnesses will no longer be allowed and the powers of employment judges to sit alone will be extended.

  • The maximum amount of costs which an employment tribunal can award will be increased from £10,000 to £20,000.

How are we to react to these proposals? On the one hand, they can be seen as a comprehensive attack on workers’ rights, secured after years of struggle. It also appears that the main motivation behind the proposals is to save money.

It can also be argued that the proposals mark yet another step towards the Americanisation of the English legal system, exemplified by the abolition of legal aid and the introduction of conditional fees. America has no law of unfair dismissal – this “hire and fire” philosophy clearly has its attractions for those who wish to make a bonfire of workers’ rights.

Another point worth making is that, although the proposals may look like bad news for lawyers, because the number of unfair dismissal claims will be sharply reduced, the reality is that the proposals mean further “legalisation” of employment tribunals. These tribunals, created to deal quickly and cheaply with employment disputes, have become increasingly the haunt of specialist lawyers. We may soon see the day when m’learned friends have to don fancy dress before they can be heard by an employment judge.


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