Farewell Tony, and thanks for all the employment disputes

Can we all agree that cancer is a bad thing? I think we can. Indeed, I think we can go further and agree that lung cancer is a very bad thing. And as smoking causes lung cancer, it follows that smoking is a bad thing and that the recent smoking ban is a very good thing.

Perhaps we might not all agree on that. I for one enjoy a crafty drag after a glass or two, but despite by nature being a civil libertarian, I think on this one John Stuart Mill had it about right when he said “your liberty stops where my nose begins”.

Forgive me if, as an employment lawyer, my smile at the smoking ban is just slightly wider than yours. While many might look on the ban as a sensible piece of social legislation, I see it as a meal ticket – one last gift from a PM who has like no other bestowed bounty upon me and my kind.

Where is the money in a smoking ban? you may ask. It is a simple rule. Employee smokes – employee fired. Lawyers make money from complexity and ambiguity.

But consider this: you are reading this in an office. If you want a cigarette break, you will nip out for one. Get your chargeable hours in and return all your phone calls and no one will care.

But on the shop floor every minute of every break is a precious jewel. If the new ‘open air’ smoking shack is 100 metres further than the old smoking room, an employee will lose a minute off their time. And their non-smoking co-workers will be watching every extra second they dare to steal.

Employees will likely start lighting up a little too early and stubbing out too late. One employer client, which already has a complete smoking ban in its plant, has already encountered such difficulties. In a bid to cheat the rules an employee found a gap in the plant’s fence railings, stuck his head through, lit up and claimed he was smoking off-site. This type of scenario is stock in trade for employment lawyers. The employee will likely claim his actions were the result of stress or that he lit up to calm his nerves after he had been bullied by his supervisor.

So we shall lick every last drop of cream from this last Blair dish. It has been such a happy time.

The former PM was an employment lawyer. His wife is an employment lawyer. Cynics might say that employment law, rather than any Bristol flats or US lecture tours, is the Blair pension fund. Cherie will never be out of work for a second. It is not just that there has been so much new law, including many new forms of discrimination (our most lucrative source of income), but that so much of it has been botched.

We now have a Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulation (Tupe) that leaves all the big questions unanswered and statutory dispute resolution procedures that cause more disputes than they resolve.

But I don’t think it is that. I just think that, consciously or not, Tony looked after his own. So I shall light a big fat cigar in his political memory, even if it is out in the wind and rain.