Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A charter for bullies

The Government have published the Draft Statutory Instrument which will, for those employed on or after 6 April, increase the qualifying period of continuous employment required to bring a complaint of unfair dismissal from one to two years (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2012/9780111519974).

This means that, providing they are not discriminating against a worker on the grounds of one of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act, or dismissing for one of the special reasons to which the qualifying period does not apply, employers will have carte blanche to dismiss us at any point in our first two years of employment.

Employers' organisations say that this change will make them more likely to employ new staff - but the evidence for this isn't there. The reduction in the qualifying period in 1999 didn't increase unemployment and this change won't reduce it.

This change is about power in the workplace - and shifting the balance of power away from workers and towards bosses. Back in the mid 90s UNISON took a tribunal case which exposed, in one Department of one London Borough, a deliberate practice of employing temps for 23 months only to avoid their obtaining the statutory right to complain of unfair dismissal.

In that case we were able to show, on the facts, that the practice was unlawful indirect race discrimination - but in general such disgraceful employment practices were perfectly lawful under the last Tory Government and soon shall be again under this one.

If only Labour had abolished the qualifying period all together (in line with TUC policy) the Government might now be facing some greater resistance to the reintroduction of the principle that new starters deserve fewer rights.

As it is, the thousands of workers who face joining the millions on the dole over the coming months will - when and if they find work again - face working twice as long before they obtain even the feeble right to minimal compensation offered by an employment tribunal.

Taking this retrograde step together with the introduction of fees for bringing tribunal claims (welcomed by the British Chambers of Commerce - spokespeople for the provisional wing of the petit bourgeoise - http://www.britishchambers.org.uk/zones/policy/press-releases_1/fees-for-accessing-employment-tribunal-service-will-boost-business-confidence-says-bcc.html) Government policy is clearly to establish a charter for employers to act like bullies in the workplace.

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