Queen’s speech. Lots of noise, no surprises.

Last week’s Queens Speech had a number of mentions on employment matters but none of these were unexpected and there was very little detail.

 

The main points mentioned were an overhaul of the employment tribunal system, a pledge to ‘transform’ the dispute resolution landscape and the vague ‘repeal unnecessary legislation’.

 

Employment tribunal overhaul proposals have been widely trailed (fees to lodge an application, fast track for smaller claims etc) and are unlikely to bring any huge surprises.  Any introduction of fees are likely to be resisted by Trades Unions and welcomed by business bodies.  However, I think the bigger issue is that Tribunals expect employers to gather information and go into it in a lot of detail whereas most small to medium sized employers have no interest or incentive to do so.  The ‘reasonableness’ test is drifting further away from reality.  If the government really want to tackle this issue then they need to have a deep look at why tribunals have moved away from what was originally intended to be a simple forum to resolve disputes to one which is entirely based on legal process.

 

Transforming the dispute resolution landscape sounds a loftier ambition.  In my experience with small businesses, the issue is more about the process and one that must be followed in order to avoid any claims of an unfair process.  The current ACAS guidelines are pretty straightforward in terms of ensuring some sense of natural justice but the main blocks are having to give employees notice of the meeting (and thus risk 24/28 hours of disruption or uncertainty), the right to be accompanied (although I don’t see this happening very often) and then the appeal process.  There will also be proposals to encourage parties to use ACAS to settle disputes by conciliation but unless ACAS change their operation or increase their resources this would become a bottleneck rather than assisting the issue.

Unless the government (as well as other interested parties eg TUC, CBI, IOD, ACAS etc) can come up with a ‘cunning plan’, the only route to reform I can see is to ditch one of the above mainstays of the process.

 

We will wait to see what detail emerges.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about how the current situation may affect your business please let me know.

 

As a whole, I think the employment related provisions in the speech were weak.  Lots of barnstorming speeches and tough sounding soundbites (talk about bonfires and red tape slashing) but the reality seems quite limp.

 

Can anyone smell Rome burning?