Fight this bosses’ charter!

Dave Gorton, Unite LE/372 branch

As almost three million workers prepared to strike against one onslaught on their future, business secretary Vince Cable was announcing another. Introducing an overhaul of existing employment law, he said he wanted the process for getting rid of staff to be “simpler and quicker”.

The British Chambers of Commerce said: “Giving companies greater flexibility to hire and fire will provide them with greater confidence to take people on” – so much for Lib Dem Cable’s protestations that he wasn’t introducing a hire and fire culture!

Again, the Lib Dems have kowtowed to Tory hawks in the coalition, dropping almost all their supposed opposition to radical changes in employment law. As predicted in the Socialist (issue 692, No return to hire and fire), the ‘kite-flying’ of venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft’s report a few weeks ago has led to all but the most reactionary measures being considered.

Sham consultation

Some proposals include ‘consultation’ but of course the government will be listening to their big business friends, not trade unions. Among proposals under consultation are:

Beecroft’s Compensated No Fault Dismissal, but only for firms with less than ten employees, showing the coalition isn’t strong enough to take on the unions over scrapping the concept of unfair dismissal.

The consultation period for collective redundancies to be reduced from 90 days to 60, 45 or even 30. Shop stewards already know the consultation period rarely works in workers’ favour with redundancies the outcome of most. Reducing time limits will mean workers thrown out of work more quickly with a reduced opportunity to hunt for alternative employment.

“Protected conversations”, which will allow employers to discuss issues such as performance or retirement with employees without fear of being taken to a tribunal, amounts to a bully’s charter.

Introducing Employment Tribunal fees to lodge a claim with a second fee to proceed to a hearing.

Other measures will be introduced without consultation: doubling the length of service required to bring unfair dismissal claims to two years and making it compulsory for claims to be lodged through Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) to encourage mediation before the claim reaches the tribunal.

Of the 34 OECD countries, only the employment legislation in the US and Canada is weighted more firmly in the bosses’ favour than Britain. These measures are nothing to do with productivity or job opportunities – there is no evidence that current legislation makes Britain less ‘competitive’. They are a bosses’ charter being introduced by a right-wing millionaires’ government on behalf of their big business friends.

Trade union leaders reacted with anger at the plans… but they must do more than just respond to the consultation in academic terms. They need to build a campaign of opposition inside the unions, a campaign that could increase union membership and strengthen existing weak shop steward structures, aimed at preparing workers to defend and improve current protection.

The gloves are off – government and workers are on a collision course over pensions, cuts, jobs and rights. There are tumultuous times ahead.