Monday, October 08, 2012

Tories decide to scramble employee relations

After a long day unpicking some of the absurdity of (local) state sponsored (non)mutualisation it is - in a strange way - reassuring to reflect that the proposals which spew forth from this most reactionary of Governments are so much worse than even the least sensible of the proposals of their political opponents.

Today our unqualified Chancellor proposes that workers may abandon various legal rights in return for as little as two thousand pounds worth of shares (without capital gains tax - but if Osborne is left in charge of the economy then capital gains are unlikely!) (http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/oct/08/george-osborne-workers-rights-shares?cat=politics&type=article).

Whilst I can almost hear intelligent labour lawyers bemoaning the half-baked Conference-pleasing nonsense suggested in Birmingham today, I don't doubt that their more mercenary colleagues are gleeful at the litigation which will ensue.

We already have distinct legal definitions of "employee" and "worker" - and a wealth of case law defining the boundaries (including the chain of cases about agency workers fron Dacas -v- Brook Street to James -v- London Borough of Greenwich). Now Gideon invites the courts to start beating the bounds of an entirely new quasi-employee status.

For a Government that says it wants to reduce red tape this is foaming-at-the-mouth nonsense. Already firms can give shares to employees in order to try to secure their loyalty - many of the bonuses paid to those whose largesse keeps the Tory party afloat are paid in shares or share options.

No one has ever suggested that the bankers who get shares as part of their bonuses should forego employment rights - but it would appear that this Government feels that cashiers or checkout assistants should be cajoled into selling their (all too limited) right to justice for a handful of shares.

This is not a genuine offer of "ownership" on the model of the Mondragon co-operatives. It is an attempt to grab headlines at the expense of the London Mayor without thought for the employee relations consequences.

In all probability there will be few consequences in the sensible parts of the real world - but the Institute of Directors will have been able to work themselves into their own little frenzy - and the more carnivorous elements on the Tory Conference floor will believe that they have been fed.

It's crystal clear that the Tories want to remove the right to complain of unfair dismissal altogether. It is clearly offensive to our social betters in the Cabinet that mere "plebs" should be able to challenge the decisions of our superiors in such a fashion.

There's a couple of things they haven't considered.

First, if you have no right to complain of unfair dismissal anyway then all of the pressure not to take unofficial industrial action disappears.

Secondly, the self-denying ordinance observed by the courts in developing legal remedies around - for example - damages for the manner of dismissal depended entirely upon the existence of the statutory unfair dismissal regime.

If you create a new category of quasi-employees - and if employers are daft enough to use it (and the continued existence of the Institute of Directors surely shows that many are) then it'll be your fault if you see increases in unofficial industrial action and judicial activism around contractual employment rights.

Perhaps David Cameron should give George Osborne two thousand pounds worth of premium bonds and then tell him his services are no longer required?

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