Union fears over 'red tape bonfire'

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The leader of the country's biggest trade union has accused the Government of planning a "bonfire" of policies designed to protect workers under moves to review employment law.

Ministers announced it was consulting on cutting compensation payments for discrimination, reducing the current 90-day timescale for firms to consult over job losses, and changing the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment Regulations (TUPE) which protects the pay and conditions of public sector workers transferred between companies.

Business leaders welcomed the announcement as evidence that the Government was removing barriers to job creation.

But Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, said: "There is one community that certainly will not be toasting the coalition's first anniversary - working people. For them, May 2010 was certainly nothing to celebrate.

"The Business department under Vince Cable's supine direction is cultivating a disgraceful reputation as a 'do nothing' department when it comes to saving jobs, let alone creating the tens of thousands needed, especially for those aged 16 to 24.

"If the 90-day consultation period is swept away, giving workers and companies a small window in which they can save jobs, then this shameful reputation will be cemented.

"And where exactly is the job creation dividend to be garnered from dismantling TUPE? These regulations offer only slender protection on pay as it is - they can do nothing to protect a worker's pension during takeover, but they can help to retain much-needed standards in the workplace.

"Chancellor George Osborne and employment relations minister Ed Davey want to make a bonfire of alleged red tape - the labour movement should be getting out the hose pipes to extinguish these small-minded plans."

Mr Davey said: "The areas we are reviewing are priorities for employers. We want to make it easier for businesses to take on staff and grow.

"We will be looking carefully at the arguments for reform. Fairness for individuals will not be compromised - but where we can make legislation easier to understand, improve efficiency and reduce unnecessary bureaucracy we will."

Steve Radley, director of policy at the Engineering Employers federation, said: "Over the last decade we have seen a seemingly relentless growth in employment regulation, at a time when business needs more not less flexibility to respond to fast changing markets.

"Industry will welcome the fact that government is addressing some big issues such as rules on collective redundancy and compensation for discrimination. But we also need to see a change in culture from government with significantly less use of regulation to achieve its aims."

Paul Griffin of law firm DBS Law said: "There has been an increase in claims of discrimination in the last six months due to employers not following correct procedure in a mad dash to reduce head count ahead of another downturn in the economy.

"Cutting compensation to victims of discrimination will not deter vexatious claims. The only effect will be to reward bad employers who disadvantage women and ethnic minority workers, legitimising an unpleasant trend in employment practice."