Today is a difficult day for employees.
Today it becomes more difficult, if you are (or will be) one, to seek redress from your employer. Previously, to qualify to claim unfair dismissal, an employee needed to have been employed for a continuous period of a year. That has now risen to two years.
Additionally the amount of costs (that is, the costs of legal advice and representation) that can be awarded against either party has risen from £10,000 to £20,000. Costs are only ever awarded in this context where a party has behaved ‘unreasonably’. But that isn’t really the issue. The fact that costs could be awarded, that an employee could be threatened with an application for a costs order (something that I’ve experienced on occasion), is deeply off-putting, particularly now that that spectre is twice as big and twice as scary.
Taking those reforms alongside the proposed changes, to come into effect next year, to require prospective claimants to pay a fee to the Tribunal, the climate is one of deterrence.
Driven by the lure of a ‘flexible’ labour market, translating roughly to cheaper, more-easily-sackable workers, and, in thrall to the self-serving goal of the CBI and business community to push Britain’s ‘competitiveness’, other values are swept aside. Even if it were justifiable to treat workers this way in aid of an ailing economy, it’s highly unlikely that increasing insecurity among workers will increase confidence and spending (either among those workers or their employers). There are other, more significant, determinants to whether employers will hire more.
This comes at the same time as local councils are cutting provision for free legal services and the Government are cutting the legal aid budget from under our feet.
My local example, the Camden Community Law Centre—one of the country’s first law centres, incidentally—is gradually, but irreversibly, in decline. Camden Council are revoking funding for housing and welfare advice. And, in a uniquely cynical move, the Council have dedicated to continue funding employment and immigration case-work, but this is in the knowledge that CCLC cannot continue to use their current premises or maintain an effective level of service with this partial funding. This way the Council will appear not to have been the one that killed the Law Centre.
In the background to all this is the final fact that employment law, in 2013, will go entirely (in the coldly bureaucratic language of the MoJ) ‘out of scope’.
We’ll be left with, as Nick Cohen so elegantly put it: one law for the rich, no law for the poor.