Heading towards Radical Reform or Off Field?
The most radical reform of employment practice for decades was the description given by the Government last year of its proposed revision of employment laws; there’s certainly no doubt that some of the actual and proposed changes are ‘radical’- but only where that means drastic or extreme, but can they truly be described as ‘reform’? It may be stretching credibility to its breaking point if that’s meant to connote an improvement as opposed to purely a change.
Last year we highlighted the Government’s proposals that emanated from the Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation both in deep despair and gloomy resignation to the inevitable. To be fair, we did manage to stifle complete despondency and raise a qualified approval of some of the proposals – but we do mean qualified – the intention seems to be in the right place but the jury’s out as to whether they’re on the right path.
We were right on all counts and the 6th of April heralded the following:
<!–[if !supportLists]–>1. <!–[endif]–>The qualifying period for an unfair dismissal claim is now 2 years for those employees starting with an employer after that date (but not for employees employed before then, they still have to have only one year’s continuous employment)
<!–[if !supportLists]–>2. <!–[endif]–>Witness statements in Tribunal proceedings will now be taken as ‘read’, in attempt to speed up the progress of hearings.
<!–[if !supportLists]–>3. <!–[endif]–>In some unfair dismissal cases judges will sit alone without lay members.
<!–[if !supportLists]–>4. <!–[endif]–>The maximum deposit that the Claimant can be ordered to pay to proceed with a claim has increased from £500 to £1000.
<!–[if !supportLists]–>5. <!–[endif]–>The amount of costs that can be awarded to a legally represented party without referral to the County Court will increase from £10,000 to £20,000.
Without wishing to repeat our views, we can only reiterate that when it comes to procedure, the mischief of tribunal claims stems from administration inefficiencies; clearly imposing the rules above will reduce costs, but not necessarily to the advantage of a just outcome. Reading the actual lines as well as between them, some Claimants will either be detrimentally affected by a regime which turns a hearing into a clinical exercise and is more likely than not to favour an employer’s ability to buy more sophisticated representation, or will be deterred from pursuing a case at all by the costs involved, either upfront tribunal costs or the increased level of costs that can be awarded against them. The injustice of increasing the unfair dismissal qualifying period to two years speaks for itself; a workforce already vulnerable to ever increasing insecurity in their employment conditions will be put at even more of a disadvantage, and as we highlighted before, the number of discrimination claims will inevitably rise, leading to an increase in both cost and complexity which will prove massively damaging to employers, employees and ironically, the tribunals.
It doesn’t end here either; the government has just published its Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which will introduce further changes to employment law and the Beecroft Report, commissioned by the government to consider really radical change, was published in draft form earlier this week. More to come on those in a future blog.