Orchestrated leaks from the Coalition indicate that a series of anti-worker laws aimed at targeting workplace rights is being planned. A leaked report written by venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft in October called for the abolition of unfair dismissal protections – empowering companies to sack staff at will. The argument is that employment protection legislation stifles investment and flexibility. The Beecroft report then hides behind EU legislation as the minimum acceptable benchmark.
The report was followed by talk from Cameron about legislating to introduce “protected conversations”. This means the employer can have full and frank conversations with an employee before sacking them because their face does not fit but without the sacked worker being able to introduce such evidence at an Employment Tribunal. This would supposedly get rid of the terrible cloud of constructive dismissal which hangs over employers. Only 1 per cent of constructive dismissal cases are successful. Some threat!
In November employment secretary Vince Cable regurgitated all these arguments, now openly stating that employment legislation holds back economic growth. The General Secretary of the TUC gently drew Cable’s attention to the fact that German workers have greater workplace protection than British workers and that the German economy is the strongest in Europe. He could have said that German pensions for both public and private sector workers are also significantly higher than British pensions!
On 30 November, the day two million workers struck to defend pensions, Cameron raised the old chestnut of taxpayers subsidising trade union stewards and representatives in the workplace. Rattled by the strike, he resorts to threats and intimidation.
In the first year of the Coalition the number of Employment Tribunals rose by 56 per cent to nearly 240,000, reflecting how bad real industrial relations are with bullying employers. The Coalition response is to double to 24 months the qualifying period before you have legal workplace rights. This was the period Thatcher set, and it led to a culling of workers in their 23rd month of employment. Cameron bluntly stated in November, “This means anyone taking on a new employee can now be confident that they have two years to get the relationship right, rather than just one. And if things aren’t working then they can end the relationship without being sued for unfair dismissal.”
Workers have to return to basic concepts of workplace organisation, commonality of interests, unity as strength as we enter this period of greater fragmentation in the workplace, uncertainty and employer/government attacks. Work cannot be a one-way street with the employer dictating the agenda. Being organised at work and controlling work is about us asserting direction and improvement for our own class interests. ■