Despite employing fewer than one in four people in the UK, the public sector is responsible for 37% of all Employment Appeal Tribunals, according to a study of official stats by law firm EMW Picton Howell. In some ways this isn't surprising (and not because civil servants are naturally stroppier than the rest of us); after all, the public sector is much more unionised than the private sector these days. But we can't help wondering: if it's 37% now, what's it going to be like this time next year after the Government takes the axe to public spending?
As EMW says, union membership means disgruntled staff have greater access to both representation and financial support. And although the private sector employs three-quarters of the workforce, a relatively small proportion bother to join a union nowadays - which perhaps explains why it accounts for just 56% of EATs. Of course that doesn't mean staff are any less disgruntled - it may just mean that they don't have the means or the backing to pursue their claims. And equally, since any appeals arising from the redundancies of 2009 probably haven't trickled through to the tribunal yet, it's possible that the number of private sector tribunals will go up this year.
On the other hand, we haven't seen too many civil service redundancies yet – and with mass job cuts likely as the Government slashes public spending, that's all going to change. So public sector claims are likely to rise too. And it's not just redundancies that will drive this; EMW thinks changes to management practices will also have an effect. As the public sector is pushed to cut costs and improve productivity, bosses will have to introduce tougher performance management and tighter pay restraint. If they don’t do this sensitively - and some of them won't – we’re likely to see a lot more unhappy civil servants. And this will mean more EATs.
Another potential issue is when organisations try to cut costs too quickly (apparently this is a particular problem in the not-for-profit sector, which also sees a disproportionate number of tribunals, and isn't unionised). If organisations are operating on a tight budget and suddenly have a funding shortfall, they often slash jobs instantly - without jumping through all the relevant redundancy hoops. That doesn’t go down well at tribunal either.
Since all of these factors are likely to apply to the public sector in the medium term, expect it to keep accounting for a disproportionate number of appeals tribunals...
In today's bulletin:
EU embarrasses Government by slamming deficit plan
Slasher Voser continues his shake-up of sluggish Shell
Debenhams sales up after returning to first Principles
Public sector has 22% of workers - but 37% of employment appeals
MT talks to GGR's Gill Riley