Socialist Worker

Tribunals are unfair, and the Tories will make it worse

Tom Walker asks whether employment tribunals are the best way to defend workers’ rights

Issue No. 2326

The government is attacking workers’ rights again. Lib Dem lapdog Vince Cable claims he wants to reduce “the burden of employment tribunals” on firms.

In fact he just wants to cut the compensation workers can get for unfair dismissal to a maximum of one year’s salary—or even lower.

Employment tribunals give workers a chance to take action against employers who sack them illegally. In theory they can currently win up to £72,300 in compensation.

But the latest government figures show that just 49 people were awarded more than £50,000 in the last year—and that’s out of 46,000 tribunal cases for unfair dismissal.

Less than 5 percent of workers who brought cases were awarded any compensation. Half of those payouts amounted to £4,560 or less. And many people who could bring an employment tribunal case don’t because the procedure is so complex.

Now the government is changing the rules so that you have to work two years for an employer before you can bring an unfair dismissal claim. The TUC says this change will affect 2.7 million people.

And from summer next year workers will have to fork out £1,200 for a full hearing—payable upfront. There are vague suggestions that low paid workers may be charged less, but this is by no means guaranteed.

The idea is to force workers into cheaper “mediation” procedures with the conciliation service Acas. The Tories also want to be able to pay off workers cheaply using “settlement agreements” that bypass a formal dismissal or redundancy process.

Stopped

And there are plans to make it even easier for judges to throw tribunal cases out, even though almost one in ten cases is already stopped without a hearing.

Construction companies have been involved in blacklisting where known union activists are denied work. Many blacklisted workers have gone to employment tribunals but no worker has ever won.

Industrial action can defend workers’ rights better than any lawyer. Unions need to be ready to fight for employment rights.

As Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group put it, “The sparks’ victory did more for blacklisted workers in six months than all the campaigning over the previous 30 years.”

But even our limited rights at tribunals are under attack from the bosses. Venture capitalist and Tory donor Adrian Beecroft wrote a report for the Tories saying they should go even further in attacking workers.

He wants bosses to be able to fire workers whenever they want—no fault dismissal or “fire at will”. This would abolish even the small protections offered by unfair dismissal law. It’s already being brought in by the backdoor through the “shares for rights” scheme.

For now the Lib Dems say “fire at will” won’t happen. But we all know how much Lib Dem promises are worth.


‘Fire at will’ assault on employment rights

Tory donor Adrian Beecroft wrote his report into employment rights last October—but it was kept secret until May. Beecroft offers a nasty glimpse of what the Tories might have in store for us.

The Lib Dems boast that they blocked Beecroft’s “fire at will” plans. But even they admit that 80?percent of his proposals will be implemented—or have been already.

The attacks on unfair dismissal rights include making workers pay fees for tribunals. Beecroft claims that this will stop workers bringing cases because they haven’t found new jobs and “have time on their hands.”

The “shares for rights” plan, launched at the Tory conference, lets bosses take rights away from new workers and fob them off with a few shares. It is another way of implementing Beecroft’s original idea of “no fault” dismissal.

The existing TUPE laws say workers should keep the same pay and conditions if they are outsourced. Beecroft thinks these rules are “gold plated”.

Workforce

“The regulations make it harder to reduce costs by reducing the size of the workforce or the level of pay of the transferred workers,” he wrote. Well, yes—that’s the point of them.

So he proposes that TUPE protection should end one year after the workers are transferred to a new employer. The government has started a consultation on this.

Beecroft also wants to make mass redundancies easier. At the moment bosses have to launch a 90 day consultation period if they want to make more than 100 workers redundant. Beecroft wants to cuts this to 30 days.

He has also attacked the 33 laws surrounding employment agencies, saying they should be replaced with a “non statutory code of practice”. This would effectively abolish all regulation of agencies. These plans are also now under consideration.

Beecroft has called for the abolition of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), set up after 21 cockle pickers died in 2004.

The GLA can enforce licenses but cannot end abuse of migrant workers. Even this is too much for Beecroft, and his Tory friends have begun to reduce the number of industries the GLA covers.


Reinstatement is no guarantee

Out of all the 46,000 unfair dismissal cases last year, only five resulted in an order that the worker should be reinstated. Not five percent—five people. Yet an order for reinstatement is still no guarantee that it will actually happen.

That is what sacked nurse Yunus Bakhsh found out. He won a stunning victory at his tribunal—but when he reported for work the bosses refused to take him back.


Compensation is rare and low

It’s not just in unfair dismissal cases that see workers getting little compensation despite hard-fought tribunals.

Only 3 percent of race discrimination claims were successful, with a median payout of £5,256. Just 2 percent of sex discrimination cases succeeded, with a median payout of £6,746. And out of 29,000 equal pay cases last year, just 32 won.


Who is Adrian Beecroft then?

Adrian Beecroft has given the Conservative Party £600,000 since David Cameron became leader. He is also chairman of Dawn Capital, which owns a large part of payday loan firm Wonga.

Wonga charges over 4,000 percent interest on its loans. So Beecroft takes money from the poor and gives it to the Tories.


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Background Check
Tue 23 Oct 2012, 17:13 BST
Issue No. 2326
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