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Tory doubling unfair dismissal qualifying period is vindictive

Today the draft order is being introduced to the Commons which will remove the right to redress over unfair dismissal until an employee has worked at least 2 years in a job. At present the qualifying period is 1 year, though many believe (including me) that it should be reduced to 6 months or perhaps a probationary period of just 3 months. But doubling it to 2 years is a harsh, unnecessary, unjustified act of crude class intimidation so redolent of today’s out-of-control corporate power. If this statutory instrument is not stopped from becoming law, some 3 million people will lose their protection against unfair dismissal which many night feel was their fundamental employment right.

Of course, we are not talking here about protection against dismissal as such, where fair and proper process has been used. The issue here is dismissal which is unfair. The obvious effect, which is clearly intended, is that it will hugely increase job insecurity and allow bad employers to act with impunity. Not only will employees find they have no legal right to a fiar investigation, they will also likely have difficulties in finding future employment. It will hit young workers particularly hard since they are more likely to be in the first 2 years of employment than other workers.

So how does the government justify this act of vindictiveness against workers? Unsurprisingly they have come up with exactly the same excuse served up by Thatcher 3 decades ago. It will increase job opportunities! This pretext, almost insulting at a time of 2.7 million near-record unemployment, is based on the absurd claim that employers are more likely to take someone on for work if they know they can get rid of him/her, no questions asked, any time within 2 years.

In the 1980-90s the Thatcher government put forward the same explanation for this act of class war. But it was magisterially struck down in a High Court ruling in the mid-1990s. The Court of Appeal found that there was “nothing in the evidence, either factual or opinion, which obliges or enables us to draw the inference that the increase in the threshold period (from 1 to 2 years) has led to an increase in employment opportunities”. Nothing could be more damning than that.

But it comes as no surprise that a government that is destroying the public NHS, imposing benefit cuts of £18bn and expenditure cuts of £81bn, driving tenants out of their homes, and removing their access to legal aid, is now giving the whip-hand to employers to abuse and cheat their workers with impunity. It is surely no exaggeration that this government is as nasty, and in some respects even nastier, than Thatcher’s.

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