• Robert Spicer

Employment of children: Beecroft

In 1815 Robert Owen toured the main factories of Britain. He observed that “in some large factories from one-fourth to one-fifth of the children were either cripples or otherwise deformed, or permanently injured by excessive toil, sometimes by brutal abuse”.

EP Thompson has described working conditions in Manchester in 1832 as including eight-year old children being forced to work a fourteen-hour day. Thompson concluded that the exploitation of little children, on this scale and with this intensity, was one of the most shameful events in our history.

Adrian Beecroft is described as a “venture capitalist” and a prominent donor to the Conservative party. It has been reported that his investments include Wonga, the high-interest moneylending company.He was commissioned by the government to prepare a report reviewing employment law reforms.

It was reported in the press that key recommendations in the report, completed in October 2011, were supressed. These related to delaying plans to introduce flexible working for parents, to abandoning proposals for all workers to request flexible working and to remove regulations surrounding the employment of children.

Proposals in the Beecroft report which have been published include:

  • No fault dismissal. Beecroft has been reported as commenting that workers could end up being sacked simply because their employer did not like them. This was sad but was a price worth paying.

  • Small companies should be exempted from a range of employment protection rules including forced pension contributions, flexible parental leave and equal pay audits.

  • Changes to the transfer of undertakings rules. This would probably breach European law.

Frederick Place Chambers takes the opposite view. It asserts socialist principles of employment law and calls for employment protection to be extended rather than diluted. In our opinion, calls to reverse advances made by working people should be strongly and consistently resisted.

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