Update to Coalition's plans to reverse 114-year-old employment right - new briefing released

Submitted by sglenister on Wed, 24/10/2012 - 16:26

24 October 2012

By Sarah Glenister

This topic will be discussed at our forthcoming Health and Safety conferences in London and Liverpool.

Thompsons Soliticors explains the content and implications of the newly proposed amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which threatens to remove employers' strict liability when a worker is injured on the job.

We reported on October 17th that the government was attempting to slip a potentially serious amendment to the law - which would reverse a 114-year-old fundamental employment right - in through the back door.

Indeed, the Coalition sneaked their changes to health and safety law into the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill at the eleventh hour, and the legislation has now gone through to the House of Lords.

As Keith Patten of Thompsons Solicitors told us last week, this cannot be allowed to "slip in under the radar as a 'technical amendment'". It is imperative that awareness is raised about this drastic change to the law.

Here are the key points relating to the amendment of Section 47 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, according to Thompsons Solicitors' latest briefing:

What is Section 47?

Section 47 states that employers have civil liability for injury to workers while they are on the job and any breach of health and safety laws can be used in a personal injury claim by a worker who comes to harm. It Dates back to 1898, when it was judged that there is "an absolute duty imposed by statute upon his [a servant's] master for his protection".

The Section was removed without a public consultation

How will its removal affect workers?

Workers seeking to make a personal injury claim after being hurt at work will need to be able to prove negligence on the part of their employer. It is also likely that employers will be allowed to use the "general defence of 'reasonable practicability' (that the cost of controlling workplace health and safety risks are "grossly disproportionate" to the reduction in the risk)", according to Thompsons. Additionally, the burden of ensuring compliance to health and safety laws will be left even more up to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and less to the courts. After having their funding stripped and being attacked from all sides, the HSE's enforcement rates are already falling and the body will struggle to keep up. In short: it will be easier for employers to get away with breaking the law.

What are the wider implications?

In the wider scheme of things, this sneaky amendment fits into the picture alongside the abolition of most legal aid, plans to make it prohibitively expensive for low-income workers to take their employer to court, and proposals to reduce the amount injured employees can collect in costs, even if those costs are deemed by the court as necessary to win.

This is an ideological drive to deregulate industry in the interests of employers and to the detriment of workers. Furthermore, the Coalition has once again showed its determination to listen only to the advice it wants to hear, or invent that when opposed by the very experts they hire. Ragnar Lofstedt's review of health and safety law deemed that some consolidation but no cuts in health and safety law were necessary, and despite complaints from Lofstedt himself that he is being misrepresented, the Government continues to falsely claim they are cutting health and safety laws in line with his recommendations.

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The briefing in full

See here for the full briefing from Thompsons Solicitors, and look out for more IER news on this topic, as we are following it closely and will report when further details are announced.

Learn more at our Employment Law Update 2012

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Lofstedt has been asked to conduct a second review and OH Parsons' solicitor Steve Cottingham will be updating delegates to our Employment Law Update 2012 conference in Liverpool on the latest in health and safety and the implications of Lofstedt's review and government policy.

The event, which sold-out in London and has received excellent feedback from delegates there, also includes presentations from experts across a wide range of employment law issues, including whistleblowing, equality, discrimination, TUPE, redundancy and tribunals.

This conference is filling up fast, so click here to buy one of our last remaining tickets

ERRB civil liability briefing final.doc126 KB

IER Coalition timeline

As a trade union tutor with Unite working on a range of political and industrial relations courses the IER timeline has provided me with a great education and resource tool. As an education aid I have got activists utilising the timeline to identify and map key legal changes. I always suggest to activists that they also keep an eye on the timeline and use it to check up on changes. The value of the colour coding in terms of types of issues is exceptional as we can point equality or safety reps directly to those relevant proposals or changes. I appreciate that the attacks from this government come on so many fronts and at such speed that many of our activists are likely to miss some changes or not read about certain proposals, even as tutors there is always the challenge that we may of missed an article on a proposed attack and this provides a simple way of chasing issues.

Quite often an activist on a course will say to a tutor, “did you hear the tories have brought A, B or C in” The IER site as a whole and this resource in particular provides a clear and simple first point of reference which can then lead with one click of a mouse to much more detailed work on the issue.

Working for Unite USi, CLASS and IER are the 3 sites that I regularly visit every week and advise activists and officers to do so also.

Coalition Timeline link

Many thanks to Barry Faulkner for his compliments on our Coalition Timeline. If you would like to view the timeline, please go to www.ier.org.uk/resources/coalition-timeline

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