ACAS’ new guidance on how to manage collective redundancies is all of a week old. But it has been an interesting week. The news coverage surrounding Baroness Thatcher’s death has made it easier to place this topic in its historical context. The authors of the guidance can not have known that it would be read against a background of repeated images of the miners’ dispute and the poll tax riots, which makes its balanced and humane tone all the more noticeable.
It starts with a reminder that every redundancy situation, no matter how large or small, involves individuals. It then sets out to show how employers can “look after their staff and their business” and in that context aims to offer “some clarity for employers, employee representatives and employees about what the law says on collective redundancies”.
As guidance rather than a statutory code of practice it makes it clear where its first priority is from the outset. As it puts it: “demonstrating empathy can be as important as adhering to organisational policies”. Building on its revised booklet on redundancy handling released last year, it emphasises that collective redundancies affect not only those losing their jobs, but the “survivors” and those whose job it is to break the bad news. Collective consultation is seen as an essential part of managing this difficult process.
But how does it do on the legal stuff? It is early days yet, and no doubt there will be no shortage of future cases to scrutinise the fine print, but this writer’s view is that it does a fine job. It is well written and well-organised, though hardly succinct (at nearly 60 pages). Its redundancy time-line is clearly set out, and it also includes a ten-point checklist which is full of helpful pointers. But it does not pretend to give easy answers where there are none. For example, it concludes its section on the vexed issue of how to define an establishment for these purposes as follows: “This is a complex area, and, if in doubt, you may want to seek legal advice”. We could not have put it better ourselves.