“Outrageous” government proposals include changes to unfair dismissal law and plans to let employers off the hook over harassment


Workers could have to pay up to £500 to take their bosses to an employment tribunal under proposals mooted by the government.

In a move described as “outrageous”, the change in law is likely to deter employees from taking action against their employers.

Head of Employment Rights at Thompsons Solicitors Victoria Phillips said: “This chilling proposal means a large number of people won’t be able to afford to go to tribunal. The whole point of this law seems designed to stop people bringing cases.”

The proposal is one of three controversial changes scheduled to employment law, including doubling the period before workers can employee can claim for unfair dismissal from one year two years and removing the requirement on businesses to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment of their staff.

The proposals were buried in an annex towards the end of a 16-page report published on Monday by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

Part of the government’s ‘One-in, one-out’ scheme of reducing red tape, whereby every new piece of legislation replaces an existing one, they are designed to cut costs and create jobs.

They were condemned by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who said: “How will attacking workers’ ability to secure justice create one single job? All it will do is create a hire and fire culture where bad employers cannot be challenged.

“At a stroke of a pen, following a fraudulent consultation exercise whereby employers could ‘vote’ for their least-liked laws, a key defence against mistreatment is taken away from workers. And the government does not even have the decency to announce this properly. How can this be in 2011?”

Industrial tribunals, now employment tribunals, were introduced in the 1970s as a quick and easy way of dealing with employment problems, with each side bearing its own costs.

The government now says it plans to “introduce fees for lodging employment tribunal claims to transfer the cost burden from tax payers to the users of the system.”

These fees could be as much as £500, the sum proposed by the Daily Mail.

It also proposes to “increase the qualifying period for employees to be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal from one to two years.”

Phillips said: “This is a complete sop to the business lobby and gives employers the green light to employ staff for one year and eleven months before getting rid of them. And all to save less than £6m. The government has conceded it will only reduce claims by 2,000 a year, about one per cent – there is absolutely no justification for it.

“It isn’t about cutting red tape, it’s about making it easier to sack people and is another vindictive attack on vulnerable people which has nothing to do with flexibility but everything to do with pandering to the vested interests of employer bodies.”

The proposal to allow employers not to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment of their staff is because “this is something businesses have no direct control over” says the government.

Phillips disagrees, saying: “Employers should be protecting their workforce, not sitting back and saying they can’t do anything about it.

“This provision will specifically affect people working in benefit offices as well as transport workers and catering staff and anyone else who deals with the public in their day-to-day life.

“It shows David Cameron doesn’t care whether employees are subject to the kind of sexist and boorish comments he makes. All these proposals are outrageous.”

Len McCluskey said: “Yet again, this government shows it has no care or concern for the lives of working people and listen only to those business powers who are sinisterly using this recession to make this country a very unhappy and unjust place for workers.”

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