New Laws To Make Sacking Workers Easier

Jon Craig, chief political correspondent
New Laws To Make Sacking Workers Easier

David Cameron is to go to war with the trade unions over new laws to make it easier for firms to sack workers while condemning next week's public sector strike over pensions.

A huge shake-up of employment laws and tribunals, which will make it harder for employees to claim unfair dismissal and save employers millions of pounds, has been bitterly attacked by union leaders.

According to the Government, the "most radical reform package for decades" - unveiled by the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable - will make it easier for firms to recruit, manage and let staff go.

Coinciding with the employment law shake-up, the Prime Minister has launched an attack on public sector union leaders over the November 30 strike and urged them to think again in an article in the Sun.

"I have huge respect for the hard-working men and women who keep our vital services running," Mr Cameron writes. 

"The teachers who educate the next generation, the childminders who keep our children safe and workers who keep our streets clean.

"We depend on them every day. And they do a brilliant job.

"That's why I'm so angry to hear that union bosses are ordering millions of public sector workers to strike next week - even while talks are under way. Most of them did not vote for this. Only a quarter of union members backed industrial action."

Mr Cable's employment tribunal shake-up includes:

:: Increasing the qualification period for making a claim for unfair dismissal or sex discrimination from one to two years of employment.

:: Cutting the current 90-day consultation period on redundancies to as little as 30 days.

:: Requiring all claims to go to conciliation service Acas before reaching an employment tribunal.

Other proposals include a "rapid resolution scheme" to offer cheaper, quicker decisions on more straightforward claims and a regional pilot scheme for smaller firms to use mediation.

The Government believes the reforms would deliver over £10m of savings for taxpayers and benefit employers to the tune of £40m.

Mr Cable told Sky News the current system "actually works in many respects very well".

There is "strong protection of labour rights against fundamental discrimination issues and protection against bullying," he said.

But the Business Secretary said there remained a huge amount of bureaucracy, particularly around tribunals.

A Business Department spokesman said: "The UK has one of the most flexible labour markets in the world but we want to make sure that the rules are fit for modern workplaces. We need to make the system simpler for employers and employees.

"This package will make it easier for businesses when taking on, managing and letting go their staff, while also being fair to workers."

But the move has been denounced by union leaders. 

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: "These changes will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of workers to bring cases of victimisation, unfairness and bullying at work. This will just sweep abuse under the carpet."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Reducing protection for people at work will not save or create a single job. It's not employment law that is holding firms back, it's the tough economic climate and the problems many companies are having getting the banks to lend to them that's to blame."

In his Sun article, Mr Cameron says the Government's offer on public sector pensions is generous and ministers have been prepared to listen.

"People working for ordinary businesses all over the country are facing tough times," he writes. 

"Yet unions want the rest of us to pay even more in taxes - rather than share the burden.

"My message to the union leaders today is: think again. I urge public sector workers to put the people of Britain first and work normally next Wednesday.

"The victims of strike action will be the people who pay your wages - the ordinary people of Britain.

"And at a time when we are trying to get the economy back on its feet, a strike is the last thing anyone needs."