Lawyers slam government plans to restrict unfair dismissal claims

Employment lawyers have hit back at a leaked government paper that proposes abolishing unfair dismissal claims for ’unproductive workers’, stressing it would rob all employees of basic legal protection.

Samantha Mangwana
Samantha Mangwana

The paper, commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron and written by Conservative party donor Adrian Beecroft, claims that under current rules workers are allowed to “coast along, secure in the knowledge that employers will be reluctant to dismiss them”.

Beecroft states that replacing underperforming workers with more capable ones would boost the economy.

However, Old Square Chambers employment barrister Anya Palmer branded the paper “an outrageous proposal”.

“It isn’t just about underperforming employees,” she said. “Any employee could be sacked and, unless they could prove discrimination, would have no right to compensation other than a small fixed payment. Beecroft says that’s a price worth paying. How many voters will agree?”

Russell Jones & Walker employment partner Samantha Mangwana believes the proposed changes would be counterproductive, stressing that the move would not help the economy “in any way shape or form”.

Mangwana added: “Encouraging unfair dismissals is likely to increase unemployment, not decrease it. Worse still, this proposal would allow employers to sack staff who are performing productively and effectively with impunity.”

Anna Birtwistle, an associate at employment and partnership firm CM Murray, added that in the long run it would be businesses themselves that would pay the price for the move.

“Directly in terms of people bringing more complex uncapped discrimination claims which carry a higher potential legal and reputational risk for the employer, and indirectly through the continued acceptance of inefficient management practices,” she explained.

According to the leaked government report the “terrible impact of the current unfair dismissal rules on the efficiency and hence competitiveness of our businesses, and on the effectiveness and cost of our public services” is a major issue for British enterprise.

In January, the David Cameron unveiled the coalition government’s plans to get Britain back to work by reforming employment laws. A proposed ‘employers’ charter’ wouldl mean that companies can sack workers during the first two years of their employment without the threat of being taken to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal. Currently, workers who feel they are unfairly dismissed can make a claim after 12 months in a job.

In 2010-11 the cost to the taxpayer of running employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal in England, Wales and Scotland was more than £84m but more than 80 per cent of applications did not result in a full hearing, according to the Ministry of Justice.