The Government has announced its plans for the ‘most radical reform to the employment law system for decades’. The wide-ranging changes, which include reform of the tribunal system, the introduction of tribunal fees, ‘no fault’ dismissals for micro-companies, and reducing the consultation period for collective redundancies, were described by Business Secretary Vince Cable as ‘emphatically not an attempt to give businesses an easy ride at the expense of their staff’.
Vince Cable outlined the proposals in his speech to the manufacturers’ organisation, the EEF. Some of the most eye-catching are the unexpected ones that were not widely trailed before the speech. These include a proposal to remove protection for whistleblowing that relates to a worker’s own contract. Since the EAT’s decision in Parkins v Sodexho Ltd 2002 IRLR 109, an employer’s breach or likely breach of an employment contract has been a matter about which disclosures are potentially protected. In his speech, Vince Cable referred to this as a ‘loophole’, which would be closed. He also announced a call for evidence (see link below) on whether the 90-day minimum consultation period for collective redundancies should be reduced.
Among other proposals, the Government will also:
• seek views on introducing compensated ‘no fault’ dismissal for micro firms with fewer than 10 employees
• examine ways to ‘slim down’ and simplify dismissal processes, potentially working with Acas to change their Code, or publishing supplementary guidance for small businesses
• publish a consultation on two options for the introduction of employment tribunal fees. The first option would require an initial fee to lodge a claim then a second fee to proceed to a hearing. The second option would require those seeking an award above GBP 30,000 to pay more to bring a claim
• call for evidence (see link below) on proposals to simplify the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006
• consolidate 17 national minimum wage regulations
• consult in the spring on streamlining the regulatory regime for the recruitment sector, and
• create a universally portable CRB check that can be viewed online from early 2013.
As part of the response to the Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation (see link below), the Government has committed to:
• requiring all employment disputes to be offered Acas pre-claim conciliation before going to a tribunal
• increasing the qualifying period for unfair dismissal to two years from April 2012
• consulting in 2012 on ‘protected conversations’ to allow employers to have discussions with staff about retirement or poor performance, which could not be relied on in a tribunal claim
• an independent review of the employment tribunal rules of procedure, led by Mr Justice Underhill, to address concerns that tribunals have become complex, inefficient, and are no longer fit for purpose
• consulting on simplifying compromise agreements – renamed ‘settlement agreements’
• considering how, and whether, to develop a ‘rapid resolution’ scheme to offer a quicker and cheaper alternative to employment tribunals
• modifying the formulae for up-rating tribunal awards and redundancy payments to the nearest pound.
The Government claims this will save business GBP 5.4 million (net) a year.