Last November we announced that the UK Government was proposing
employment law reforms – those reforms are now in
6th April 2012 saw the implementation of a host of UK reforms
ranging from an increase in the qualifying period for an unfair
dismissal claim to new rates of statutory maternity and sick pay,
plus amendments to its Employment Tribunals rules of procedure.
The UK Government appears to have embarked on this frenzy of
changes as it believes it will assist businesses and boost the
economy. By reducing an employer's obligations to its staff it
is anticipated that there could be net savings to industry of more
than £10 million per year. Despite the positive spin placed
on the reforms by the Government, some political commentators
suggest the reforms will only seek to erode (or at best weaken) an
employee's protection in favour of the employer; the main
concern being the extension of the qualifying period from one to
two years' continuous employment for an employee to bring an
unfair dismissal claim, or seek a written statement of reasons for
Working parties and, in particular, the trade unions, argue that
this increase is nothing more than a green light for an
unscrupulous employer to terminate an employee's contract of
employment within their second year of service, creating a
'hire and fire at will' culture. They claim that thousands
of employees could be left in a vulnerable position with little or
no statutory protection. Effectively, 2.7 million workers across
the UK could face an increased risk of job loss with no recourse to
the Employment Tribunal.
It is important to point out, however, that this reform will
only apply to those who enter into a contract of employment on or
after 6th April 2012; those whose employment started before this
date will remain subject to the previous qualifying period of one
year's continuous service.
Other reforms include allowing, for the first time, employment
judges to sit alone in Tribunal hearings, and no longer with a
panel of lay members. According to the cynics amongst us, this
reduction in salary expenditure is just another cost-cutting
exercise by the UK Government. Those in favour of this reform say
it will simply speed-up what is fast becoming a complex and lengthy
procedure (long since regarded as the 'litigant in person'
friendly forum); hearings can now be convened sooner rather than
later and parties can now see a quicker response time for Tribunal
decisions. It remains to be seen whether this reform will be
successful - even its proposers have their doubts, suggesting a
progress review in twelve months.
There has also been an increase of £6.72 in the weekly
rate of statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay with
eligible employees being able to claim up to £135.45 per
week. Statutory sick pay has also seen an increase of £4.25
entitling those eligible employees to claim up to £85.85 per
week. It definitely was a good Friday for those in the UK who will
reap the benefits of the increases, but not such good news for the
overall tax payer's purse strings, which may be tightened just
that little bit further.
Other 'not such good news' for UK employees are the
potential costs and filing fees that could now be incurred in
pursuing a grievance through the UK's Employment Tribunal. Gone
are the days of free filing. Now, a claimant in the UK will be
required to file a fee of £250 simply for lodging the claim;
a further £1000 will then have to be paid by the claimant
should the grievance proceed all the way to a hearing. Surely such
measures will only seek to prevent genuinely aggrieved employees
from seeking redress; hardly evidence of employee protection, but
still positive news if the Government is trying to keep Tribunal
hearing numbers to a minimum.
I guess for the UK employer it was indeed a good Friday, just
not such a Happy Easter for its employee. Generally speaking, it is
likely to be some time before we know the true impact of these
radical reforms, but Collas Crill will continue to watch the
position with interest. Who knows whether these reforms will ever
make their way across the Channel but given the States of
Guernsey's intention to overhaul our existing employment laws
in the next couple of years, I suspect that there will be much
speculation about their progress and many will be watching
anxiously. Let's hope that Channel Islanders will continue to
enjoy a good Friday when employment law reforms come up for
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