What is interesting about the Government’s announcements today is that BIS does not appear to have changed course since the introduction of Michael Fallon into the Ministerial Team mix. Fallon was parachuted into the Department only last week with the Government reshuffle, as the “voice of business”, some would even say as a Tory spy, so as to keep an eye on Vince Cable, but what has been released today is very much what we have been expecting since before the summer break.
We will need to consider the detail, but the proposals are certainly a nod in the direction of those who have been saying the Government needs to take a firmer grip on the course of employment legislation and make it more employer and business friendly, whilst at the same time keeping in mind the need to provide protection for the rights of the employee. For example, the idea of having no fault /fire at will dismissals, so beloved of Beecroft and his admirers, does now look to have been finally consigned to the wastepaper bin at least so long as Dr Cable remains as Secretary of State.
In the last year there has been mounting focus on the idea of introducing formal settlement agreements or a machinery to reassure employers that they are not at risk in conducting “without prejudice” negotiations with their employees at any stage or at least regardless of whether a “formal dispute” has arisen by the time they have that conversation. Conceptually that seems like a good idea. The devil is in the detail however, as procedurally there are a number of reasons why that concept is actually quite hard to introduce. However the Government now has some concrete proposals to put out for consultation and this will provide a welcome opportunity to study the detail and comment on the practicalities of taking this forward.
As for the proposed removal of the current cap on unfair dismissal awards, this does look more of a psychological proposal than anything else. Most unfair dismissal awards are nowhere near the current cap. However, we may see a return to the old days, before Labour came to power in 1997, when employers after being told of their likely (limited) financial exposure in the event of an unfair dismissal finding against them could nonetheless get on with it, sure in the knowledge that financially at least, they were not going to be exposed.