There were some interesting comments made by David Cameron in his speech last Thursday (10 November 2011) on Exporting & Growth. See - Prime Minister's Speech On Exporting & Growth. I’ve cut and pasted below the relevant employment law parts which cover:-

  1. protected conversations;
  2. increasing qualifying period from 1 to 2 years for raising an unfair dismissal claim;
  3. Employment Tribunal fees.

The qualifying period increase (from April 2012) and introduction of Tribunal fees (probably December 2013) have already received a fair amount of press coverage. However, the reference to protected conversations is a new one. As you will see below all that is said is:-

“So we will be consulting on the introduction of protected conversations, so a boss and an employee feel able to sit down together and have a frank conversation...”

There is, of course, nothing at present which prevents a boss and an employee having a frank conversation but I suspect that what the Government has in mind is that such a conversation would not then be admissible in any subsequent Tribunal proceedings. It is possible to have a "without prejudice" conversation at the present time but the way that the law in this area operates means that even if the "without prejudice" label is attached the conversation may still be, depending on the exact circumstances, admissable if the matter proceeded before an Employment Tribunal.

The full text of the speech is available at the link above but the relevant employment law part is:-

“And when it comes to making it easier to employ people, we are going to get to grips with some of the rules and regulations designed to protect employees, but which are actually stopping people getting jobs in the first place.

Too often a criticism of regulation and bureaucracy is confused with an attack on the rights of employees. It’s seen as some sort of choice.

Either we’re on the side of business or on the side of the people; backing management or backing employees. In other words, too many people think you strip away the rights of employees in order to give businesses an easier life.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. We want businesses to create jobs.

But if employers are so concerned about the prospect of being taken to tribunal that they don’t feel they can have frank conversations with their employees many companies just won’t feel able to create those jobs in the first place.

One businessman said he didn’t have the time or the money to go through the hassle of removing people in the UK – so he hires in the US. Another said “I don’t care if the UK’s processes are more flexible than most European countries. That’s like saying we’re better than Italy at cricket. The real competition is the US and Asia.”

That’s why I want to deregulate and cut back on bureaucracy. Not simply to help business but to create fair, simple processes that are good for business and good for employees too.

So we will be consulting on the introduction of protected conversations, so a boss and an employee feel able to sit down together and have a frank conversation – at either’s request. And we’re going to help address employers’ fears of a tribunal by increasing the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims from one year to two years from next April.

This means anyone taking on a new employee can now be confident that they have two years to get the relationship right, rather than just one. And if things aren’t working out then they can end the relationship without being sued for unfair dismissal.

We’re also proposing to introduce fees for individuals who want to bring cases to employment tribunals, meaning that potential claimants are much less likely to pursue this option unless the employer has a genuine case to answer.”

Yet again, it is a case of watch this space for further developments….