Happy New Year – unless you happen to be a worker…

11 January 2013 By Roger Jeary 2013 promises more of the same...

Commentary icon11 Jan 2013|Comment

11 January 2013

By Roger Jeary

2013 promises more of the same…

It has to be said that 2012 was a pretty poor year for employment and trade union rights. Whilst New Year messages are meant to point to the positive, it is difficult to do that when looking at the next 12 months given what we already know is going to happen.

But I will start with some positive news from the legislative front. For families and those with children, or expecting them in the future, the Children and Families Bill, expected to be introduced in April 2013, will extend the right to request flexible working to all employees with implementation by 2014. The current duty to consider a request is also being changed to a duty to consider a request “reasonably”. In addition, it is expected that consultation will take place during the coming year on extending the ability to share the whole of maternity leave with implementation anticipated for 2015. But that is where the positive steps end.

More dramatically, the coming year will see changes in the law which will shorten collective redundancy consultation, the introduction of fees for employment tribunals and a likely tightening of the unfair dismissal cap. There is also the second phase of the so-called ‘Red Tape Challenge’ to be launched in the Spring which will inevitably look for more deregulation of the few rights left for UK workers.

On 6 April, the minimum consultation period for employers proposing to make 100 or more redundancies at one establishment will be reduced from 90 to 45 days, thus leaving workers and their representatives with minimal protection and less opportunity to challenge restructuring or closure decisions. In a similar vein the much promised consultation on TUPE is due shortly, which will focus on reducing the burden on businesses, (or also known as, from past experience, transferring the burden to the workers though less protection).

Reductions in the cap on the compensatory award for unfair dismissals is one of the employment rights changes introduced by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, due to be enacted sometime this year. This same act will also see the introduction of ‘Protected conversations’ or ‘licence to bully’ as it is also known.

Finally, based on what we already know, the new category or worker “employee owner” will come into force from April 2013. This proposal does away with basic employment rights and has little or no support from employer organisations or trade unions, the judiciary and even the Secretary of State for Business – so obviously we can anticipate this having a real impact on the jobless figures.

So 2013 has little to commend itself to workers as far as rights are concerned. Add to this the continuing attack on workers’ pay and benefits and you have a cocktail of misery in the workplace. Trade unions are unlikely to be immune from attack either. Mooted changes to strike ballots are on the horizon and further restrictions on trade union facility time particularly in the public sector are both on the Tory agenda. With so much going on across the field of employment and trade union rights we need to hear more often from those politicians who oppose the current government economic and legislative strategy. We also need to be assured that when political change occurs next time a Labour government will repeal all Coalition legislation that has diminished worker and trade union rights and introduce employment rights which at least meet the international standards to which the UK is signed up.

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Roger Jeary

Roger Jeary Roger Jeary retired from Unite in January 2012 after 33 year’s service as a negotiating officer and Director of Research. Roger worked in Northern Ireland, Manchester and London as an official of the union starting with ASTMS and then MSF and AMICUS before the final merger to Unite. In 2004 he was appointed Director of Research of Amicus and subsequently took on that role for Unite in 2007. Roger is a member of the Institute’s Publications Sub Committee. Currently Roger is a Trustee Director of FairPensions, an independent member of the ACAS Panel of Arbitrators, sits on the Advisory Panel of the IPA and is a member of the Manufacturing Policy Panel of the Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET).