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November 23, 2011

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Employment-law reforms give bosses licence to bully, warn unions

Union officials have slammed the Government over planned changes to employment regulation, saying they could give bosses the freedom to bully workers without fear of legal repercussions.

In what the Government has described as the most radical reform to the employment-law system for decades, Business secretary Vince Cable today outlined the results of a consultation on resolving workplace disputes, and the Red Tape Challenge review of employment law.

As part of the response to the ‘Resolving Workplace Disputes’ consultation, the Government has committed to:

  • requiring all employment disputes to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) to be offered pre-claim conciliation before going to a tribunal, and, from April 2012, increasing the qualification period for unfair dismissal from one to two years;
  • publishing a consultation in the new year on ‘protected conversations’, which allow employers to discuss issues like retirement, or poor performance in an open manner with staff – without this being used in any subsequent tribunal claims; and
  • commissioning an independent review of the existing rules of procedure governing employment tribunals.

The potential changes surrounding ‘protected conversations’ have attracted significant criticism from union bodies, which are concerned that they could give unscrupulous employers a licence to bully workers.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Allowing conversations that happen at work over difficult issues, like retirement or poor performance, to take place, but not permitting their record to be referred to in the future, should a case ever go to tribunal, is hugely worrying. This could simply provide the perfect cover for rogue bosses to bully at whim without fear of ever being found out.”

Echoing Barber’s sentiments, Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, said: “These changes will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of workers to bring cases of victimisation, unfairness and bullying at work. This will just sweep abuse under the carpet. Last year, 218,000 workers felt that they had no other way to deal with problems at work.”

However, the British Chambers of Commerce welcomed the reforms, highlighting its own research, which shows that 37 per cent of employment disputes are settled before a hearing because it is cheaper and easier for employers.

The organisation’s director of policy, Dr Adam Marshall, said: “Tribunal reforms, simplified compromise agreements and ‘protected conversations’ between employers and employees would help companies create jobs and deliver growth. On that basis, we would urge ministers to implement these proposals without delay.”

Announcing the reforms during a speech at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, Vince Cable insisted that workers’ rights would be safeguarded.

“Our labour market is already one of the most flexible in the world,” said the Business secretary. “This flexibility benefits businesses, staff and the wider economy. But many employers still feel that employment law is a barrier to growing their business. We’re knocking down that barrier today – getting the state out of the way, making it easier for businesses to take on staff, and improving the process for when staff have to be let go.”

“But let me be clear: we are not re-balancing employment law simply in the direction of employers. Our proposals strike an appropriate balance and we are keeping the necessary protections already in place to protect employees. Our proposals are not – emphatically not – an attempt to give businesses an easy ride at the expense of their staff.”

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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12 years ago

Exactly as the Unions state. Unscrupulous employers will hide behind these proposals to hire and fire at will. The old adage as to whether your ‘face fits’ will never be more true. Why should conversations be ‘protected’ ? What have the British Chambers of Commerce got to hide/fear ?