Those nice folk who gave us the ‘bonfire of the quangos’, not to mention swingeing cuts to legal aid, social care and arts funding, are now turning their gimlet eyes to employment law.
The coalition government announced on Tuesday that there is to be a ‘review of employment red tape’.
According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills website, it is all part of the government’s plan to ‘deliver growth by breaking down barriers, boosting opportunities and creating the right conditions for businesses to start up and thrive’.
Employment relations minister Edward Davey, in a speech to the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: ‘Fairness for individuals will not be compromised – but where we can make legislation easier to understand, improve efficiency and reduce unnecessary bureaucracy we will.’
Fairness, growth, reduced bureaucracy – you can’t argue with that.
Or can you?
Let’s look more closely at the proposed review – and it is a ‘review’, nothing has yet been decided.
The government is to consider putting an upper limit on compensation in discrimination cases.
As things stand there is no limit and, according to the government, employers ‘worry’ that high awards may encourage ‘weak, speculative or vexatious’ claims.
The government is also to look at the rules around collective redundancy.
At present, employers making lots of people redundant at the same time must allow a 90-day consultation period.
And it is to address the concerns of some businesses which believe the current rules around TUPE (transfer of undertakings, protection of employment) are ‘gold plated’ and overly bureaucratic.
London firm Partners Employment Lawyers founding partner Gordon Turner welcomes the review.
He told me: ‘People read in the newspaper about humongous settlements in discrimination cases and think they are the norm.
‘In fact, these multi-million pound settlements only come about when the claimant was previously earning very big money in the City.
‘They are headline grabbing precisely because they are not the norm.
‘Nonetheless, media reports of these excessive claims may discourage employers from taking on staff or encourage employees to expect huge payouts – they will be disappointed.
‘Reform is necessary.’
Turner adds that TUPE also needs reviewing.
‘It can be a massive deterrent to restructuring a business,’ he says.
Pam Loch, principal at Kent firm Loch Associates, told me that ‘some clarification’ around these areas of the law would be helpful for employers and employees alike.
She says: ‘The 90-day consultation rule is a mixed blessing. Most employees facing redundancy want to know what’s happening as soon as possible, rather than enduring weeks of uncertainty.
‘And some employers just don’t have the funds to keep going another 90 days. If they could act quickly, they say, maybe they could save the company from insolvency and safeguard lots of other jobs.’
Loch adds that the government will not find it easy to change the rules.
She says: ‘TUPE, for example, is a result of European law, the implementation of the Acquired Rights Directive.
‘Is the government going to pull us out of the European Union so it can push the changes through? I don’t think so.’
Richard Arthur, head of trade union law at national firm Thompsons, wonders whether the timing of the announcement that employment law is to be reviewed was significant.
‘It’s as though someone said, let’s get the local elections out of the way and then we can begin dismantling protections that are there for a very good reason,’ he told me.
Talking about the reasoning behind the proposed review, Arthur says: ‘Employers’ concerns are being given prominence and a central role in policy formulation without any empirical evidence to support them.
‘Which businesses say TUPE is "gold plated"? Where’s the evidence?
‘And I am not aware of any published evidence that high compensation awards for discrimination lead to specious claims, either.
‘And what were these high awards? Of the 73 successful disability discrimination claims last year, for instance, only 34 received more than £10,000 and the median award was £8,553.’
Fairness, growth, reduced bureaucracy – that’s what we are promised will emerge from this review.
Sounds fair enough – or is this review just another way of putting the interests of business before the interests of individuals?
Is it a good thing or a capitalist conspiracy?
Watch this space for updates – assuming, that is, I still have a job.