The 2012/11/27 at 09:59
Stéphanie Salti, in London
The British Prime Minister has made work flexibility and the elimination of bureaucracy two key axes of his policy to support the economy and employment. In a speech presented before the powerful employer’s union, the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), David Cameron criticised, on 19 November, excessive bureaucracy as a genuine obstacle to the implementation of infrastructure projects necessary for the country to relaunch its industrialisation. The Prime Minister thus announced a cut in government consultations and the elimination of surveys on the impact of government measures on citizens. One year ago, before the same group of industrialists, David Cameron had made the simplification of regulations in employment law one of the spearheads for stimulating employment. “According to the credo of the Cameron government, the elimination of obstacles to employment should allow employers to start hiring again,” notes an observer of the sector.
The British government has thus multiplied announcements and measurements for flexibility in recent months: as of 1 April 2012, employees have to have two years behind them working for an employer – instead of the one year required before - before being able to attack the latter for unfair dismissal. With the unemployment rate dropping between July and September to 7.8 % as a beneficial result of the Olympic Games, associations representing businesses have largely continued to support government efforts in terms of flexibility. In this way, the organism representing Chambers of Commerce in the United Kingdom, the BCC (British Chambers of Commerce), rejoiced over the government’s decision, in September, to lower the ceiling rate for awards payable to unfairly dismissed employees. While at the moment, this ceiling is 72,300 pounds (90,200 euros), the average sum is in reality far lower, coming in at 9,000 pounds (11,200 euros) in 2010-2011: “The current maximum award for unfair dismissal vastly exceeds the reality of most cases, but prevents many employers from seeking justice, and puts many off hiring all together. The upper limit should be reduced and this would significantly increase employers’ confidence to challenge unmeritorious claims and recruit more staff.”
A certain number of measures announced in recent months by the government have thus been welcomed by the BCC, such as tribunal reforms and the introduction of fees for claimants wishing to take their employers to court from summer 2013 onwards – a procedure that has been almost free of charge until now. The BCC has also pronounced its support for measures outlined in the Beecroft report. One of the key proposals in this report was to grant the employer in a very small enterprise to dismiss staff without any justification; the proposal was however abandoned. A few differences of opinion have emerged lately nonetheless.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced the introduction, in the near future, of a system of parental leave that can be shared between the two parents, so as to help women return to work: according to this system, mothers will still be entitled to maternal leave lasting 52 weeks paid at a three-quarter rate but can request the option of sharing this leave with their partner, either alternately or simultaneously. According to Adam Marshall, Director of Policy at the BCC, “the government’s current proposals risk causing unnecessary friction between parents and employers, and raise unrealistic expectations about the level of flexibility most businesses will be able to accommodate.” The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, further pushed back the limits of flexibility in October this year by proposing that employees be able to receive between 2,000 and 50,000 £ in shares from their companies in exchange for a renouncement of certain rights… A proposal still under discussion that hardly inspires unanimity in the British working world.