Shake-up in employment legislation backed by Plymouth businesses
A SHAKE-UP in employment legislation which has angered union bosses should prove to be a positive move, according to South West business chiefs.
But unions are worried low wages in the region will mean workers will be more at risk of breaches in employment rights.
Following changes last week, those who wish to contest their unfair dismissal or discrimination cases at an employment tribunal (ET) will now have to pay up to £1,200 to have their cases heard.
This is the first time since the relevant employment legislation was formulated in the 1960s that claimants have been asked to pay.
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The country's biggest union, Unite, has said that more than 150,000 working people a year will have to pay for justice, calling the legislation 'draconian'.
However, business chiefs in the area have said they believe the changes will encourage businesses to employ more people.
Tim Jones, chair of Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said: "We have had fairly good feedback on this policy and the general view across the business community, which in this area includes a lot of small and micro businesses, is that now there will be a greater confidence about employing people.
"There has been a nervousness due to the amount of red tape but these changes just make the decision to employ someone a little bit easier.
"In this part of the country we benefit from tremendous loyalty between employees and staff, but we believe it will significantly improve employment numbers.
"Employer and employee relationships are very strong, so we don't think this will be damaging.
"In fact, we hope it will improve relationships and enable employers to take more people on, and we will see benefits on both sides."
David Parlby, chief executive of Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, has also come out in favour of the policy.
He said: "Employment tribunals can be a costly process for businesses.
"The chamber supports businesses to practise good business in all aspects of their day-to-day running.
"For example, we offer HR advice and training to ensure businesses understand their responsibilities to their employees in the hope that businesses aren't faced with tribunal action.
"The proposed government changes to the employment tribunal process will help businesses avoid an expensive legal process where it isn't necessary.
"They will also ensure that legitimate claims are fast tracked so that cases can be dealt with more efficiently and flexibly."
But unions in the South West are worried about what the changes will mean for those on lower incomes.
Both Unison and Unite have said they will cover some of the costs for their members, and have said joining a union is now more important than ever before.
Rob Miguel, regional officer for Unite, said: "Plymouth is in the lower band for average pay, but tribunal fees are based on set amounts and don't take earnings into account.
"People in Plymouth are already disadvantaged at being in the lower band, but these changes further disadvantage them and discourage them from pursuing tribunal claims.
"It will only be people in higher-paid jobs who can afford to take businesses to tribunal."
Karen Williams, South West regional organiser for Unison, said: "I think this is particularly bad news in places where there are a lot of people working for employers on low wages.
"The government said the legislation would prevent people putting in bogus cases, but we're worried members of staff on low incomes wouldn't be able to afford to seek justice.
"This could mean that companies are not held to account for breaches of employment rights.
"This kind of attack on workers means it's more important than ever to join a trade union, not only so we can stand up for rights but so we can lobby MPs and encourage them to reverse this decision."