Workplaces are being strangled by red tape

THIS week, the latest in a long line of initiatives aimed at cutting red tape was launched. This enterprise will provide exemptions from new regulations, wherever possible, for employers with fewer than 50 employees

New iniatives aim to cut the red tape for smaller companies but is enough being done? . Picture: TSPL

Some of the changes are simple to implement – the doubling to two years of the qualifying period for unfair dismissal, and the cap of a year’s salary on unfair dismissal awards spring to mind. One might argue about the fairness of some of the changes, but they are not difficult to understand or implement.

In respect of various other recent changes, it is more difficult to see how they are easing the perceived burden of employment law on employers, particularly small businesses.

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Is there anyone outside the Treasury offices who genuinely believed that the introduction of the concept of employee-shareholders was going to benefit anyone, other than the most niche employer?

Some changes are symptomatic of a mindset that believes the best way to deal with excessive regulation is to produce new regulation, or rework existing regulations, rather than actually cut anything.

Sadly, it seems that nothing has been learned from the debacle that followed the introduction of the late (and unlamented) statutory dismissal and grievance processes. Those regulations came on the back of legitimate government concern that too many claims were being fought in tribunal which could have been dealt with more quickly, effectively, and less expensively in the workplace.

That doesn’t mean the present system is perfect and cannot be improved on. For many, particularly small employers, employment regulation can seem daunting. Time and costs are incurred in defending claims of dubious merit. The introduction of tribunal fees is at least, arguably, justified. However, even here, the government has been unable to avoid the temptation to introduce tiered fees and rebates for some claimants which has created more complexity and delay in the tribunal process.

Is it not possible at some point for the government, when it is bemoaning the burden of red tape on businesses, to actually cut it, or at least not add to the burden?

•Donald MacKinnon is director of legal services at Law At Work