At a time when the Government urgently needs the businesses to shore up jobs after rafts of redundancies in the public sector, keeping them onside should be fairly high up the Coalition’s agenda. And happily, there’s a definite sentiment among businesses that any move to make employing people easier is a good one. ‘We strongly welcome the reforms,’ says the BCC’s David Frost. ‘The current system wastes time and money, and distracts employers from growing their businesses.’
Business owners agree. Ken Day has come up against two tribunal claims in the 20-odd years he’s run his acrylics manufacturing business, K2, and says the measures are encouraging. ‘I think any step forward has got to be good – we’ve reached a stage where people don’t have anything to lose by throwing in a case,’ he says. ‘We’re always being told that people need to be protected from companies – but companies need to be protected from people, too.’
But Day adds that the proposals could go further to make bringing a tribunal more difficult. Charging a fee to bring forward a case, for instance, isn’t enough. ‘I wouldn’t make [claimants] pay a fee, I’d make them pay the other side’s costs. As an employer, you’re in a no-win situation. Even if you do win the tribunal, you’ve got to pay your costs. If they lose, they haven’t lost anything, because they’ve got the no-win, no-fee lawyers. But we have to defend ourselves – we have no choice. Win or lose, we’re going to lose.’
And although many of them welcome the plans, that’s a sentiment that’s echoed by many business organisations. Steve Radley, of manufacturer’s organisation the EEF, says if the Government wants to create more jobs, it’s going to ‘require far more radical action’ than the proposals set out. And there’s also doubt that extending the time under which employees are prevented from claiming unfair dismissal is going to change much. The threshold has actually already been moved four times since the 1970s, and, as IES director Nigel Meager points out, ‘any competent employer is going to be able to make a decision about a new employee’s performance within a year of hiring them.’
So it’s now up to the Government to decide whether the proposals will come to anything or, as Day puts it, ‘pay lip-service to the issue’. ‘It sounds good, but whether it turns out to be good is another matter,’ he points out. Watch this space.