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Where are we going?

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It’s traditional, as the year draws to a close, to think up excuses in order to avoid spending the festive season with your brother. (That’s only me? Ah, right). In any event, we all feel the urge to look forward – to predict how the coming year will pan out. Leave it to Wheelers to scope out the future and tell you what to expect.

Remember the Taylor report? Those of us who have to sit down at football matches are hardly likely to forget it. But no, we’re talking about another Taylor report, from 2017. Matthew Taylor was tasked with reviewing modern working practices, eminently qualified as he was to do so, as the chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts. The report itself pulled off the rare trick of being lengthy, detailed and wholly platitudinous (“All work in the UK economy should be fair and decent…”) but it spawned 4 consultations that commenced in February. That consultation process should be completed in early 2019 and we can then expect legislation in relation to matters such as agency workers, the enforcement of employment rights and, perhaps most interestingly, employment status. Arguably the entire process will have been worthwhile if the result is that we can easily distinguish between employees, the self employed and “workers”. Don’t hold your breath.

A separate consultation exercise has recently started into the operation of the employment tribunals. On 26 September the Law Commission issued a paper that canvassed a number of modifications to the procedure for the enforcement of employment rights. In particular, it is suggested that the current time limit for making a claim to a tribunal (usually 3 months) should be extended to 6 months.

Pausing there, you might see all this as evidence that the government (and a Tory one at that) is continually seeking to extend and strengthen the rights of employees against their employers. And you’d be right. What is frequently forgotten is the very purpose of the introduction of the right to claim unfair dismissal. It wasn’t an act of empowering altruism but rather in the hope that conferring the right on individuals would result in a reduction in collective industrial action. In that regard you could say that it has been spectacularly successful. But for the first time in years, we have recently seen significant strike action, in Glasgow. Any government, however “unenlightened”, can see that modest extensions of workers’ rights is a price worth paying to avoid such disruption.

Having said that, not all prospective changes are to the advantage of employees. Perhaps the major change we can look forward to in 2019 relates to the cost of making a claim. Remember tribunal  fees? Between 2013 and 2017, anyone who wanted to bring a case to an employment tribunal and who was not entitled to “remission” had to pay for the privilege. The fee payable for commencing, say, an unfair dismissal claim and taking it to trial was £1200 and the result was that claims overall reduced by some two thirds.

The relevant legislation was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court in July 2017 but the government has never abandoned the idea and has this month declared an intention to re-introduce fees, in a way that will avoid the criticism made of them in the courts.

So these are some of the potential changes that we can look forward to, at least if our political masters can find legislative time around their Brexit machinations. Which is a pretty big “if”.

Anyhow, it only remains for us to wish you a peaceful Christmas and a fulfilling 2019. As always, Wheelers will be here to assist. And if you want me I’ll be at my brother’s.

If you have any queries on Employment Law or a Tribunal in which you may be involved call 01252 316316 and speak to a member of the Employment Law team.