Ian Murray: The wrestle for your rights at work

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Shadow Minister for Employment Relations Ian Murray accuses Vince Cable of "pretending to put up a fight" over fire-at-will proposals, and claims the Enterprise Bill - set to be debated in Parliament this week - will "fundamentally change the relationship employees have with employers".

Have you watched an arm wrestle between a father and young child? The father deliberately feigns struggling to create the impression of a more even contest. This seems to be what Vince Cable is doing against George Osborne when it comes to the rights that each and every employee in the UK has at work.

Vince Cable claims to be standing up against the extreme ‘fire at will’ measures developed by infamous Tory donor Adrian Beecroft and which Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street long to introduce. But, much like the Dad, the Business Secretary is pretending to be putting up a fight whilst he is actually delivering very similar fire at will proposals to those he says he disagrees with.

Clearly we should be doing all we can to lift burdens from businesses, but ministers should be making it easier to hire, not easier to fire. Adrian Beecroft wants businesses to be able to fire employees at will with a minor payoff, which he calls compensated no fault dismissal. Citizens Advice described this as a “charter for rogue employers”, and it has the potential to undermine all the good employers who do right by their workers. It has also been criticised by employers’ groups including the Federation of Small Businesses, manufacturers organisation EEF, the Chartered Institute for Personal Development and the CBI.

Although not in an identical form to that proposed by Beecroft, Vince Cable is fundamentally changing the relationship employees have with employers through the Government’s so-called Enterprise Bill which will is being debated in Parliament this week. This Bill is trying to bring in Beecroft’s reforms through the back door. It will make it near impossible to seek justice through an employment tribunal if you are unfairly dismissed without clearing a number of new hurdles and paying a considerable amount of cash as a fee.

Through the Bill, Cable has also made it easier for employers to offer employees money to leave with a poorly-compensated ‘settlement agreement’. I fear that many will end up taking the money simply because accessing justice will now seem too complicated and too expensive.

Last week at Tory Conference, George Osborne announced hislatest wheeze to deliver the Beecroft proposals. The rights of unfair dismissal, redundancy, the right to request flexible working or time off for training and providing notice of a firm date of return from maternity leave can all be given up for as little as £2,000 of shares. It has all the hallmarks of a back of the fag packet policy made up at one of David Cameron’s kitchen suppers. Sainsbury’s Chief Executive Justin King slammed the Chancellor’s proposal last week, and said: "trading employment rights for shares is not what we should be doing”.

The overwhelming majority of businesses in this Country see their staff as being the biggest asset they have. Each and every day business owners go to work wanting to look after their employees. Likewise, employees go to work to do a good job, earn a living and live their lives where standards of living are being severly squeezed.

Ministers are carrying on as though the double dip recession is the fault of employees and your rights at work. In fact, it is the fault of an out of touch Government more intent on giving a £40,000 tax cut to millionaires rather than promoting a proper plan to get people jobs.

Vince Cable has, despite claiming otherwise, delivered Beecroft by the back door through the Bill that he will bring back to Parliament next week. He has not only lost the arm wrestle but nobody believes he actually wanted to put up a fight in the first place.

Ian Murray MP is Shadow Minister for Employment Relations, Postal and Consumer Affairs


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