Britannia unchained? Conservative MP says employment law offers ‘excessive protections’ for workers

INF3-129 War Effort It's up to You (Britannia) Artist Tom PurvisAs the UK economy cranks back into gear following the summer holidays, it appears likely that we will see renewed calls for an intensification and an acceleration of the Coalition Government’s already radical programme of employment law reform.

As we reported yesterday, the Institute of Directors (IoD) has put “tackling employment law” at the top of its agenda.

A majority of IoD members believe that the Coalition Government has so far been “ineffective” on “simplifying employment law.”

But perhaps the most vociferous demands for more radical employment law reform are coming from within the Conservative Party.

Britannia Unchained authors set sights on ‘lazy’ Britain

Earlier this month, the Evening Standard leaked extracts from a forthcoming book entitled Britannia Unchained: Global Growth and Prosperity, which will be published in the run-up to this year’s Conservative Party Conference.

The book’s publishers Palgrave MacMillan describe the book as follows:

Presented by a team of rising star MPs of the Conservative party, Britannia Unchained takes us on a journey around the world, to the nations that are triumphing in this new age. Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss reveal global examples for Britain to take onboard [...]. By implementing these lessons, Britain can once again triumph in this new age.

The Evening Standard reports that the book sees “rising star Tory MPs” call on David Cameron “to tackle ‘lazy’ Britain – and bring in tough new work reforms. [...] ‘Too many people in Britain, we argue, prefer a lie-in to hard work,’ they said.”

Dominic Raab, MP: ‘The definition of fair dismissal should be widened’

One of the book’s authors, Conservative MP for Esher and Walton Dominic Raab, subsequently sketched out some of his views on employment law reform in an interview with the Guardian. According to the Guardian:

[Raab] thinks current employment law offers “excessive protections” to workers. “People who are coasting – it should be easier to let them go, to give the unemployed a chance. It is a delicate balancing act, but it should be decided in favour of the latter.”

It also reports that last year:

Raab wrote a paper for the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) [...] urging that ‘the definition of fair dismissal should be widened … to encompass inadequate performance … [This] would help employers get the best from their staff.’ The paper also argued for exempting small businesses from paying the minimum wage for under-21s.

Darren Newman’s open letter to Dominic Raab, MP

Employment law specialist and XpertHR author Darren Newman takes issue with some of Raab’s points.

He has written an open letter to Raab, suggesting that he should “correct that part of your [CPS] paper which suggests that underperformance cannot form the basis of a fair dismissal.”

This developed into a dialogue with Raab, summarised in the following posts on Darren’s A Range of Reasonable Responses blog: Dominic Raab’s Reply and Dominic Raab – A final exchange.

Newman received the following initial response from Raab:

We will have to agree to differ on this. I have had an enormous amount of feedback from employers based on practical experience that directly rebuts your legal analysis. Whatever the law books may or may not say in theory, employers are being taken for a ride in practice.

Newman responds with the observation that – as with the arguments used to back up venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft’s proposals for radical employment law reform to boost economic growth – Raab’s stated reasons for wanting a widened definition of fair dismissal are “very general and non-specific.” He continues:

It is a shame that when challenged on the specifics, you fall back on the familiar, generalised, appeal to anecdote that tends to characterise the debate on this topic. I think we are entitled to a more rigorous approach from those who are proposing a significant change in the current law.

Newman argues that, in his view, “beneath the generalisations and the anecdote, we should be clear” that “those promoting the ‘Beecroft’ agenda” are effectively proposing that they should be “entitled to dismiss employees on a whim without giving them a fair opportunity to demonstrate that they can work to the required standard.”

Dominic Raab, MP: Much of employment law ‘looks like a regulatory and litigation nightmare’ to employers

The dialogue continues in the post entitled Dominic Raab – A final exchange.

Here, Raab argues that much of employment law “look[s] like a regulatory and litigation nightmare for even a conscientious employer (especially a small business owner.)

Raab also states that “I never advocated the Beecroft recommendation on no fault dismissal, but rather a variation – and there are many other shades of grey.”

What’s your view?

I’m very interested to find out XpertHR readers’ views on the arguments put forth by Raab and his fellow authors of Britannia Unchained.

Do you think that “tough” employment law reforms are required to combat “lazy” Britain? Does employment law look like “a regulatory and litigation nightmare” to your organisation? What do you make of Raab’s view that “the definition of fair dismissal should be widened?”  I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch via the via the comments box below, or contact me directly via Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.

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One Response to Britannia unchained? Conservative MP says employment law offers ‘excessive protections’ for workers

  1. Geoff Hadgraft 31 August 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Dominic Raab’s whole proposition appears to be based on stories gleaned from the Daily Mail. Anyone with any actual knowledge of employment law knows that yes there are hurdles to jump but they are there for good reason – to stop poor organisations/ managers hiring and mainly firing without any recourse. “I don’t like you today – you’re fired; you disagreed with me today – you’re fired.” Essentially Raab and his colleagues want to turn us into America. Most of our laws are perfectly fine in principal – the problems tend to arise in the interpretation of them in tribunals, when common sense seems to fly out of the window from time to time.

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