Call me weird, but if I was Vince Cable, I wouldn’t go around bragging about how I “blocked” attempts by George Osborne to “set a high minimum wage” – as Sir Vince does in his near unreadable tome about how brilliant and sensible he was in the Coalition, After the storm. (Apparently, all the bad Coalition stuff was the work of someone else – Dave, Nick, George, or Danny). No, I think I’d keep that to myself, just in case I run into one of the all too many strivers who have to live on – or even below – that minimum wage.
That particular boast was on page 12 of After the storm. So I had to read another 195 coma-inducing pages before I got to Sir Vince’s mind-boggling assertion that his time as Mr Sensible of the Coalition included “a modest shift in [the] terms governing unfair dismissal, in order to reduce the numbers of cases going to tribunals”.
As Sir Vince helpfully spells out, this modest reform means that “it now requires two years of employment, rather than one, before an [unfair dismissal] case can be brought”. I’m a bit rubbish with statistics, but I think that’s a 100% increase in the length of the qualifying period. So I suppose we must be grateful that Sir Vince and the useless Dave, Nick, George and Danny didn’t go for less modest reform of unfair dismissal law.
However – as you may have guessed, if you’re my Mum or Gem Reucroft – it was Sir Sensible’s claim about needing to reduce the number of unfair dismissal cases going to tribunals that really got my goat. Because – and I have a chart to show this, which proves my moral superiority over Sir Vince, who includes no such chart in After the storm – the number of tribunal claims for unfair dismissal fell from 57,400 in 2009-10, the last year of the Labour government led by the equally useless Gordon Brown, to 47,900 in 2010-11, and to 46,300 in 2011-12. That’s one unfair dismissal claim every 26 years, on average, for each of Britain’s 1.2 million employers.
Call me weird (again), but that doesn’t look like a crisis requiring a 100% – sorry, a modest – increase in the qualifying period for legal protection from unfair dismissal. Admittedly, the number of such claims did shoot up by a whopping 6.3% to 49,200 in 2012-13, but by then Mr Sensible and the Silly Billies had already decided that modest, 100% reform of unfair dismissal law was necessary to prevent the economy going into meltdown. Or something.
Indeed, that 6.3% increase followed their modest reform in April 2012. Oops. It was all going so well until then. Here’s that chart of which Sir Vince can be so proud.
In the 12 months following Sir Vince’s modest reform in April 2012 (the orange column), we can see that modest, 6.3% increase in unfair dismissal claims. And then, in July 2013, Chris Grayling introduced his own modest reform (the blue column) and over the next 12 months unfair dismissal claims fell by an extremely modest 66%, never to recover.
As Sir Vince puts it in his soporific After the storm, “measures introduced elsewhere in government radically to increase tribunal fees” – that is, measures that were nothing to do with Sir Sensible, who was simply in charge of employment law policy at the time – “have almost certainly tipped the balance too far against workers”.
The policy change on unfair dismissal was ‘modest’ as few people will have been affected by it. Few people leave work in the 2nd year of employment. Once you reach a year you are likely to be there for the duration. And the vast majority of the people who do leave do so voluntarily. I’d bet that virtually no employer has taken advantage of their increased freedom.
That does leave the question of whether it was worth doing. But that is true of many policies. It is sensible so lets take it a bit further – extension not reform. On the other side the jacking up of fines for employers who break employment law/NMW is an example of this. [And in this case the worker does not benefit.]
Where there has been reform rather than extension – ET fees the prime example – the policy is poor because the reform might be right (a nominal fee) but the extension of the principle beyond a reasonable point – the fee is too high – makes the balance against the worker unreasonable.
[As you know, I think that the lack of customer service for both claimants and employers in dealing with ET claims is similarly unreasonable. Cases which take years and where the public work for the legal system rather than vice versa seem to me to be an equally unreasonable restriction on worker’s entitlement to justice.]
Ah but at least, judging by that last paragraph, Vince doesn’t commit the cardinal sin of splitting an infinitive.
Yes, we can thank him for that. He will probably write a book about it.