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Employment tribunal changes proposed

New Government proposals could reduce the number of cases going to employment tribunals, by allowing employers to hold ‘protected’ conversations with staff concerning poor performance without these being used in future tribunal hearings.

Business Secretary Vince Cable will announce the changes, which the Government suggests could save £10m and benefit employers. The proposals include settling disputes more quickly, reducing the length of time for consultation on planned redundancies from 90 days to 30, and requiring people to work for two years before they can claim for unfair dismissal.

Cable – who has admitted he is unsure about some of the proposals – told BBC Breakfast: “We are not trying to create an environment of ‘hire and fire’ and insecurity, absolutely not. That is not the way we want to proceed. In current conditions that would not be helpful at all.

“But we also want to create an environment in which entrepreneurs want to start businesses, expand, take on staff and feel confident that they can do that and, if they run into difficulties with a particular employee, they can have a conversation with them without worrying they are going to be taken to a tribunal.”

However, shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said: “Watering down people's rights at work by doubling the service requirement to claim for unfair dismissal from one to two years is not a substitute for a credible plan for growth.

“Instead of seeking to make it easier to fire people the Government should be looking to make it easier to hire people at a time when their reckless economic policies have pushed up unemployment to a 17-year high.”

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, supported plans to simplify the use of compromise agreements and encourage greater use of mediation to reduce the number of claims, yet criticised the increase in unfair dismissal qualification period and the introduction of ‘protected conversations’.

Willmott said: “Proposals to introduce some form of ‘protected conversation’ to allow employers to discuss issues like retirement and poor performance without fear of a tribunal claim, are likely to actually increase confusion among employers, add to red tape and generate additional legal disputes.

“In the same way, the increase in the unfair dismissal qualification period from one year to two years is a poor policy call. There is no evidence that it will have any significant impact on reducing the number of employment tribunal claims or support the labour market in anyway. Both these measures risk making excuses for poor managers – who will cost firms far more in the form of demotivated, unproductive workers than they will in tribunals.”

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