There Are People That Are Badly Treated, and in Many Cases, Employers Get Away with a Lot; Would Making It Easier for Small Businesses to Fire People Give Them the Confidence to Hire More Staff in the First Place? JOHN HILL Investigates

Article excerpt

Byline: JOHN HILL

IT'S no secret that there are a number of businesses nervous about recruiting, at a time when employment has reached 2.62 million. But will the Coalition's mooted changes to employment law help, and are they addressing the issues that are stopping firms from hiring? Business Secretary Vince Cable revealed during a speech to manufacturers' organisation EEF that ministers were looking for views on various changes which would hit employment legislation.

Among the ideas floated is the possibility that businesses with 10 or fewer staff could remove staff without agreement without the risk of tribunal, as long as they pay compensation.

The Coalition is also looking for thoughts on "protected conversations", which would allow firms to discuss performance without this chat turning up in a tribunal.

And there is talk of a reduction in the minimum consultancy period from 90 to 30 days, a need for all claims to go through conciliation service Acas before tribunal and a "rapid resolution scheme" that could push cases through in three months.

Cable said the Government was "not trying to create an environment of hiring and firing and insecurity", but instead aiming to "reduce the bureaucracy around tribunals".

The moves stop short of proposals made in a review for Downing Street by venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft, who suggested businesses have the ability to sack poor performers without explanation.

The proposals have received a mixed response. EEF's own Terry Scuoler said the measures were a "welcome first step", and mused that "for too long employment regulation has been heading in the wrong direction".

The CBI's Katja Hall said it welcomed the idea of a "rapid resolution scheme" and "protected conversations" and said businesses want to see "quick action to reduce the collective redundancy period".

The Federation for Small Businesses' North East regional chairman Ted Salmon said the FSB "welcomed" the moves, but called for ACAS to be "better resourced".

He said reducing the "fear" around hiring staff would "go a long way to boost employment". However, the GMB's general secretary Paul Kenny countered that the changes would "sweep abuse under the carpet", and that it would make it harder for hundreds of thousands of workers to bring cases of victimisation, unfairness and bullying at work.

Businesses have been complaining about "excessive red tape" for a while, and the Government invited suggestions earlier this year on regulations businesses wanted to remove.

Geoff Riddell, who runs Washington safety mat distributor JFS2000, said the confusion over regulations had left him unwilling to add staff to his business, which he runs with his wife.

He said: "At the moment, I just wouldn't hire anyone. I'd rather take someone from an agency for a brief period. From what I've heard, what's being proposed won't make a great deal of difference. It's mostly hype. Most businesses are genuine and are not trying to con people, but sometimes they need to be able to try something new. …