Wouldn’t it be good if employment rights were simple: fair and reasonable treatment for people who apply for work and also people at work?
No special rules for different groups, no need to remember or guess who’s protected and who isn’t, no service requirements, no complex rules to decide employment status – just straightforward rights for everyone. We could dispense with a whole load of arguments, time and costs– just like that. Governments dream of the holy grail of removing employment costs and boosting UK PLC and they seem to get it disastrously wrong.
A few years ago we had those tortuous statutory disciplinary and grievance procedures (don’t you get bored just reading those words). You had one step, two step, three step; was it a grievance wasn’t it? Did we care? Well yes we had to. This was intended to let employers and employees sort out their disputes without bothering the tribunals which as we know cost a lot of money and are too busy. We said it wouldn’t work and it didn’t.
Actually we had more cases because there were even more rules and more to argue about. So after a bit we repealed them and quietly put our toys away. Now we have a new bit of nonsense: we are going to make it harder for people to claim unfair dismissal. From next April, you will have to work for the same employer for two years before you get the right not to be unfairly dismissed. Why? Does it make sense to encourage employers to be unfair? Do we need to create an even bigger army of people who get stressed and take time off because they have no job security? Already the largest group of the long-term sick of all types of worker is those who are off work with stress related illness, or even just SRC (stress related condition).
Will we reduce claims to those costly and busy tribunals? I think not. No what will happen is that where people feel they have been unfairly treated, lawyers and other advisers will remind their clients that they can bring other types of claims instead: discrimination including disability discrimination associated with all that stress, victimisation, harassment, whistle blowing, asserting a statutory right: the list is long. For none of these claims do you need to clock up any time at all.
For claims under the Equality Act you qualify at the point of recruitment. It is no urban myth that from time to time we hear of people making a reasonable living at this. It is true that we are to see fees coming in for tribunal claims a year later, but if I were a betting girl I would wager a tidy sum that the £250- £1,000 proposed while almost certainly deterring the timid and cautious, will simply add to the tally for settlement of these claims which are uncapped and tend to attract higher compensation than standard unfair dismissal anyway.
Sue Ashtiany, founder, Ashtiany Associates