No fault dismissal plans face growing opposition

Challenges to the proposal come from Cable, Heseltine, and potentially the courts.

What will kickstart growth in the British economy? Well, apparently making it easier to sack people, if the government's policy moves are anything to go by. But plans to allow no fault dismissal for small companies appears to be a step too far, causing considerable discomfort both within the coalition and amongst the public.

Now, the Business Secretary Vince Cable has said he will work with Lord Heseltine, the Conservative former deputy prime minister, to block the bill.

The plans, proposed in a report by venture capitalist Adam Beecroft, would make it easier for firms to sack people without explanation, on the basis that this will encourage them to hire more people. While the Liberal Democrats are reportedly completely opposed to the idea, under strong pressure from Downing Street, Cable was forced to agree to a consultation on introducing the rule for small companies (of ten people or fewer).

While limiting the measure to micro-companies waters down Beecroft's original proposal, the logic is still flawed -- as self-made millionaire Heseltine argued on the Politics Show on Sunday:

When you start talking about enabling people to sack people, well, I have two observations. The first is this, the sort of companies that I understand don't sit there saying, "by golly, we've got to be able to get rid of people, so therefore we mustn't invest because the risks are too high". If you're really an enterprising business, you invest because you think it's going to be a success. You may have to readjust but you can do that, as quite obviously is happening right through industry as significant numbers of people are being laid off.

This intervention from Heseltine, a Tory party grandee who is currently advising Cameron and Nick Clegg on growth, adds weight to the argument and prevents it from being another Lib Dem/Tory spat -- as Cable has clearly noted. At the launch of the reform to employment law, the Business Secretary said:

There were some very helpful comments from Lord Heseltine, one of my very distinguished conservative predecessors, you know warning about the dangers of creating a fear of dismissal and I'm very responsive to the advice I get from him.

Meanwhile, the Times (£) reports today that yet another challenge to the bill could come through the courts. According to senior lawyers, women are more likely to work for small companies, so there is a case that this would amount to indirect gender discrimination.

While it is clear that this bill will not have an easy passage, it is worth remembering that although this is one of the most extreme, it is not the only move against workers' rights. A series of deregulatory measures are not being consulted on, as they have already been accepted by government. These include increasing the qualifying period for unfair dismissals from one year of employment to two, and requiring those who take their employer to industrial tribunals to pay an initial deposit of £250, and a further £1,000 is a hearing is granted.

It is difficult to see how, in this unstable economic climate, further eroding job security will have any beneficial effect.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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