Launch of “Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents”: why history should be left to the historians
January 30th, 2013

Do you know that it rains in the UK? Well apparently this morsel of information is going to play a part in the advertising campaign for what the UK is really like. This goes hand in hand with the launch of “Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents,” which has been issued by the coalition as a guide for immigrants who wish to apply for citizenship.

The guide replaces the New Labour handbook “Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship,” which was first issued in 2007. In fact the desire of the Tory led government to put their stamp on how brand Britain is presented reminds me of a history essay we had to write at University entitled “History is written by the victors. Discuss.” Well this is a message the Tories have certainly taken to heart.  (more…)

Civil Service reform: why it matters
January 13th, 2013

The goal for all Labour supporters is clear – win back power in 2015. What does this mean? Well, being in government. Obviously. It is only when you are in government that you can pull the levers of power right? With our focus on political messaging, activism and policy we seem to have lost sight of the machinery of government itself. Without an effective system to implement our policy then the ramifications of decisions made by government is lessened.

During A level politics (now some time ago), we were made to study all the key components of the system – House of Commons, House of Lords, the judiciary and the civil service. It was only by seeing government as a combination of these parts that you can get an understanding of the whole. Studying the civil service was to look at a vital part of the workings of government; that and a wonderful excuse to watch episodes of ‘Yes Minister’.  (more…)

Bad for workers, Bad for business
November 28th, 2012

This week I blogged for Unions Home blog following on from the debate between Society of Labour Lawyers v Conservative Lawyers this week where I spoke in favour of the motion that this government is bad for workers and bad for business. You can access it here

Social media – the next legal frontier?
November 21st, 2012

Lord McAlpine has caused widespread shock in the twitter community by threating legal action against those who tweeted or retweeted his name in connection with allegations made by the BBC about child sex abuse. Like users of many social media outlets, the assumption has been that there is a distinction between saying something online in a personal capacity and publishing a statement as a broadcaster or writer. The proposed action has been a wake up call for many.

Social media has allowed people to vent feelings online in a way that most would never have dared to offline. David Aaronovitch’s  10 golden rules for Twitter produced this week was timely. In essence it tore down the artificial distinction individuals make between their online persona and their other daily interactions. The best rule was the last. Don’t tweet something you wouldn’t say to someone in person. Better still are the figures of Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby and  Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid  summoned up by Charles Kingsley in his Victorian morality tale, The Water Babies.  (more…)

Today’s employment figures – behind the headlines
November 14th, 2012

The rather dully named ‘Labour Market Statistics, November 2012’ was released by the Office for National statistics today which stated that “The unemployment rate for July to September 2012 was 7.8 per cent of the economically active population, down 0.2 from April to June 2012. There were 2.51 million unemployed people, down 49,000 from April to June 2012.” So in a nutshell things are getting better. Well this depends on how you define better. It is certainly an encouraging sign that the economy is starting to move in the right direction, albeit slowly. (more…)

Equal pay for equal work
October 26th, 2012

The refrain of ‘equal pay for equal work’ was the guiding principle of the Equal Pay Act 1970. However, what ought to have been a hallowed principle has rung rather hollow in the decades after the Act passed.

In 2010 the Chartered Management Institute produced research that male and female managers will not be paid the same until 2067! Even as a Fabian who believes in the power of incremental change, just under 100 years for legislation to take effect is hugely disappointing. This problem was particularly pronounced in the UK which was lagging behind its European competitors. Even if you disagree with the figures it was apparent that the gap between male and female pay was unacceptably large. (more…)

The price of rights?
October 11th, 2012

The Tory assault on employment rights continues apace. Despite the lack of appetite shown for the root and branch reforms they wish to pursue, the Tories remain determined to cut through what they perceive to be red tape. That is whether it exists or not.

George Osborne’s latest initiative announced at the Conservative party conference this week proposes that companies offer up to £50,000 in tax free shares if employees sign away their rights to claim unfair dismissal, flexible working or maternity pay. This is the latest in a line of initiatives that seeks to unburden small and medium sized businesses and thereby free them up to create jobs. Applying Osborne’s logic this should lead to an economic renaissance that will deliver the Tories a second term in office but with a comfortable majority. (more…)

Unfair Dismissal – is there a case for reform?
September 25th, 2012

Part of the government’s agenda for growth has been a package of suggested employment law reforms. If businesses were liberated from the tyranny of red tape then they would be free to employ more individuals, or so the argument went. My earlier blog set out how Vince Cable has rowed back to some extent from the views set out in the Beecroft report. However, there is still a lingering belief that employers are constantly (and unfairly) being dragged through employment tribunals by recalcitrant former employees. The increasingly right wing conservative party want more compromise agreements and less employment tribunals. So what do the latest statistics from the Ministry of Justice show? (more…)

Why the government’s approach on youth unemployment isn’t working
September 19th, 2012

This morning the Work and Pensions committee publish their report on the Government’s Youth Contract, their initiative to tackle record high youth unemployment. So confident were the coalition they that this was the right approach, that the Labour initiative, the Future Jobs Fund, was scrapped. Further to my earlier blog, the FJF had been cited to have tangible results in breaking intergenerational cycles of joblessness and moving people off benefits.

According to the press release announcing the report, the purpose of the Youth Contract is to “provide around 430,000 additional opportunities in total for young people over the next 3 years. Its broad objective is to “level the playing field” by making young people more appealing to employers looking to recruit.” So what is the verdict of the committee? In brief, the scheme isn’t sufficient for the task at hand. (more…)

Reducing job security won’t decrease unemployment
October 11th, 2011

George Osborne’s plan A to stimulate economic growth has detoured into the realm of employment law. With a logic that it is hard to follow he declared that businesses would be encouraged to hire more staff by increasing the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims from one year of employment to two. That way businesses can be comforted that vexatious litigants can’t get at them.

You see? Neither do I. Oh, and there is also going to be an issue fee which claimants can only get back if they win their case.

I am not alone in my cynicism. The equality and human rights commission confirmed in their response to the government’s consultation this year that the ‘efficiencies’ sought could lead to inequalities.

They expressed concern that men tend to have longer periods of service than women and that there could be indirectly discriminatory effects of this change. In any event, it ignores the fact that claimants can still issue discrimination claims without having to meet a qualifying period.

Despite this, there doesn’t appear to have been any consideration on the impact these policies will have. Not only will it squeeze access to justice, but also it could well dissuade those from low paid groups with good claims not to make them.

The uncomfortable fact is that women, young people and some ethnic groups are disproportionately represented among the low paid. In the words of Ed Miliband last week, we are not all in this together, as this latest announcement shows.

Given the cost of obtaining legal representation for tribunals, many claimants are often in person throughout. Making them pay to issue a claim as in the county courts ignores the usual imbalance between the employer and the employee. It could act to disincentivise all claims rather than those that are bad ones. Even if you do accept the government’s reasoning, then it is hard to justify why the proposed issue fees being mooted are higher than similar value claims in the civil courts.

Interestingly, Dr John Philpott, the chief economic adviser at the chartered institute of personnel and development, sees little merit in the proposal. He says that the evidence is that less job protection encourages hiring in boom periods but increased firing in bust periods. It therefore makes employment rates less stable during the economic cycle.

 

However, it does not change the fundamentals – the number of people in secure employment. He strongly takes the view that this will be detrimental for the long term prosperity of the economy by undermining any spirit of engagement between staff and management. It seems out a bad signal to people at a time when they are already feeling vulnerable.

Disputes in the workplace happen. The correct way to reduce claims is to increase mediation between the parties and ensure organisations comply with existing regulations.Preventing people from issuing unfair dismissal claims is a mistake. All it shows is a lack of commitment on the part of this government to access to justice and a disregard for the low paid.

If the coalition are looking for another policy to u turn on, this is it.


This post was first published on Left Foot Forward on 4 October 2011.

 

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