Bee in ear for Beecroft

Specialist lawyers reject Beecroft ’sack on sight’ report, branding it unbalanced

Such is the rate of employment law reform that the Employment Lawyers Association (ELA) Annual Conference last week included a session called, ’What next – repeal Magna Carta?’

Employment lawyers are open-mouthed at the latest addition to the reform programme, venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft’s report into creating growth. The report, commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, includes proposals that would make it easier to sack workers and water down Tupe laws.

In the legal fraternity the consensus is that the report is out of balance.

“The Employment Tribunal has been good at striking a balance,” explained Devereux Chambers’ Andrew Burns. “Beecroft’s come down on the side of employers.”

DAC Beachcroft partner Rachel Dineley labelled the proposals “draconian”, while Kingsley Napley partner Richard Fox, elected president of the ELA last week, added that the “ideas it’s produced don’t seem to be backed up by any corroborating evidence – it’s not a balanced report”.

The most controversial proposals, such as compensated no-fault dismissals and small business exemptions, are never likely to see the light of day, lawyers say. The Government has already said it will not consider no-fault dismissals. According to Dineley, even if they are implemented many employers would be resistant because “they do nothing to encourage good employment practice”.

That said, dig deeper and the report contains some proposals that are considered more moderate.

According to Robert McCreath, a partner at employment boutique Archon, proposals to bring Tupe law into line with EU law would be welcomed by employers.

“Reducing the time for redundancy consultation may not be popular with unions,” McCreath said, “but in my experience most employees don’t want these things to be dragged out painfully.”

The big question is whether trying to fix an economy by tinkering with workers’ rights is the best approach. Many proposals are prohibited under EU law and some say new legislation would breed litigation. All this adds cost – hardly what business needs right now.