Cable criticises 'fire at will' proposal for employers

The business secretary has weighed in to condemn proposals that would make it easier for employers to fire under-performing staff.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

New recommendations for reducing the amount of red tape in business, including a new employer’s right to sack workers at will, have been openly criticised by the business secretary, Vince Cable. 

The proposals come as part of venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft’s report, commissioned by David Cameron, but Vince Cable isn’t happy with its findings, saying that there is no need to ‘scare the wits out of workers’. He dismissed the idea as ‘the wrong approach’, saying that Britain already has ‘a very flexible, co-operative labour force.’ Not all workers are as flexible and co-operative as contestants on Strictly Come Dancing, Vince…

Supporters of Beecroft’s recommendations argue that firms would be less wary of litigation associated with layoffs, and therefore would be more confident to hire when their business is performing well, in turn benefiting the wider economy. Other proposals in the Beecroft report include capping loss-of-earnings compensation on successful unfair dismissal claims; scrapping Equality Act provisions for ‘third party harassment’ (for example if customers in a restaurant make sexist comments to staff); and making it the responsibility of the Home Office, instead of the employer, to check foreign workers’ eligibility to work in the UK. 

On a practical level, the report recommends that employers could choose whether or not to adopt its proposals, providing potential employees with details of employment regulations it had chosen to opt out of. Sounds easy enough, but we can’t help thinking that employment legislation is either law or it isn’t: red tape will hardly be reduced if firms can decide when the law applies to them. There has also been the suggestion that the government may have edited out some of the more extreme proposals in the report before publishing it.

This isn’t the first time a government has promised to cut red tape for employers though, and it remains to be seen whether new legislation would make any actual difference to the experience of employers on the ground…

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