Overhaul of workers’ rights is a charter for bullies, claim unions

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The government has confirmed plans for a “radical” reform of employment law, drawing praise from business groups but sparking anger from trades union leaders.

Business Secretary Vince Cable unveiled a package of measures yesterday including an overhaul of employment tribunals and moves that could see a reduction in the current 90-day consultation period when firms are planning to make more than 100 redundancies.

The moves included plans for all claims to go to the conciliation service Acas before reaching an employment tribunal, options for a “rapid resolution scheme” to offer cheaper, quicker decisions on more straightforward claims, and a regional pilot scheme for smaller firms to use mediation.

Mr Cable also confirmed plans to increase the qualification period for making a claim for unfair dismissal from one to two years of employment from next April, and a consultation on “protected conversations” to allow employers to discuss issues such as retirement or poor performance without it being used at a subsequent tribunal claim.

The government believes the reforms will save employers £40 million a year.

The minister said in a speech to the Engineering Employers Federation: “Our labour market is already one of the most flexible in the world.

“This flexibility benefits businesses, staff and the wider economy, but many employers still feel that employment law is a barrier to growing their business.

“We’re knocking down that barrier today – getting the state out of the way, making it easier for businesses to take on staff and improving the process for when staff have to be let go.”

Mr Justice Underhill was appointed to lead a review of employment tribunals to address concerns that they have become increasingly “complex and inefficient”, said the government.

Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey said: “At a time when unemployment is at a 17-year high and youth unemployment has topped a record one million, it is appalling that this government should concentrate on making it easier to fire people, rather than getting people back to work.

“Ministers are hell-bent on removing long-established rights at work, making dismissal easier and promoting a culture of fear in the workplace.”

He added: “These proposals are a charter for rogue employers and bullies.”

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Ministers have said they want to create a level playing field that is fair to workers and decent employers alike, but tearing up employment protection will not stop rogue employers gaining an unfair advantage over law-abiding competitors by exploiting their workforce.”