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George Osborne announces shake-up of employment legislation

Meredith Hurst Thursday, May 12, 2011

If newspaper reports are to be believed George Osborne is promising a shake-up of UK employment legislation.  This comes as no surprise given that since the Conservative led coalition came into power, it has announced a plethora of proposed changes including increasing the qualifying period for unfair dismissal from one to two years. 

The Independent reports of the erosion of long-held employment rights with the intention of affording businesses greater flexibility.  The government has culled thousands of public sector jobs and is looking to the private sector to soak up the excess.

Of the welcome changes is the proposal to introduce a fee as a condition of pursuing employment tribunal proceedings.  This is to weed out vexatious or hopeless claims from an already over-burndened system.

Perhaps the most contentious of the proposals is the suggetion that the government will amend the law relating to employment rights of business transfers, known as TUPE.  In straight forward acquisitions and disposals of a business and its assets, the rights of employees are protected.  Under the governements proposals, some employment rights would be curtailed.

The same threat is posed to compensation awards in discrimination cases.  Awards of compensation are currently un-capped where discrimination is establaished.  This can be crippling for business but is it right to suggest a cap?  Does this water down the veracity of anti-discrimiation legislation.

The truth is however, that the goverment's pronouncements are not well thought out.  Nor do they appreciate the reality of the legislative system.  The UK does not exist in a vacuum and for so long as we are part of the EU and answerable to Brussels, the threatened erosion of current employment rights will remain a pipe-dream.

So much UK employment legislation is derived from Europe and attempts to tinker with law that is emplemented subject to European directives will not go unckecked by the European Court of Justice.  The government's announcement yesterday that it will be "looking carefully at the arguments for reform" but that "legislation will not necessarily be the route to implement any change if there is a case for reform" acknowledged as much.

We will have to see how this pans out and whether reforms do come to pass.  We will or course provide regular updates. 

See what the papers say.

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