In the years of the last Labour government, I was continuously contacted by employers telling me that their control over employees had been eroded away completely. Often blaming European directives, they said that their employees had too much power, particularly with the ever-present threat of tribunals. Now, in the brief period since the last general election, the same people seem to be breathing a sigh of relief; they perceive the power being returned to them.
It was just a few weeks ago that we were talking about raising the qualifying period for claims of unfair dismissal from one year to two years, and this week the Beecroft Report has surfaced with, amongst others, recommended that employers should be “have the right to sack workers at will”. Whatever next?
Fortunately, not everyone in the government is in favour of this measure. The business secretary, Vince Cable has suggested that ‘no fault dismissal’, which is a key policy recommendation from Mr Beecroft, could leave a ‘dead hand of fear’ over employees. Today at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron refused to confirm or deny his support for the idea, despite several attempts from Mr Ed Miliband – which you can watch here.
I do not want to reproduce the whole report, but you can check it out at this link – it’s quite an easy read, but it represents a mandate for poor and abrasive employment and management. It clearly revolves around re-balancing the power in employment relationships. Admittedly, in today’s economic climate small companies do need help, but not if comes at the price of removing flexible working policies or other staff wellbeing measures.
I am left with a bitter taste in my mouth, I assume as a result of all this writing about power. We know and understand that power imbalances are the trademark of inequalities. Perhaps it is time to take the power element completely away from employment, to maximise the potential for cooperation and mutual respect between employer and employee – it doesn’t need to come down to a battle at every turn.
In recent weeks, I have been into some really brilliant companies that do not struggle with their employees. They have created cultures with key words like support, negotiation and compromise, which allow employers and employees, managers and staff to co-exist without needing to resort to legislation, directives or negative political intervention.
If a politician is brave enough let them help create a business world where the needs and wellbeing of the individual worker (and their families) are paramount. My guess is that companies that find this space will be the most profitable and it wouldn’t do any harm to wider societal wellbeing either.