Richard North, 21/05/2012  

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David Cameron is to back a radical plan to rip up employment red tape to help deliver growth, we were informed yesterday, the story making the front-page lead of one of the Sunday newspapers.

At first sight, this is simply a re-run of proposals announced last November and, on closer inspection, that does seem to be the case.

However, that did not stop the Telegraph talking up the role of Adrian Beecroft, a venture capitalist. To great fanfare, we are told that he has produced a far-reaching report "which calls for a bonfire of regulations that employers say are stifling job creation". This though, is a slender 15-page document, and was drawn up by Beecroft after he was given access to government lawyers.

Somewhat at odds with the claim of being "far-reaching", it only has twenty proposals – not an awful lot when you look at the mountain of legislation covering "employment rights and work organisation". But then, as you will see from the link, that "mountain" of legislation is EU law, which leaves very little room for Beecroft to act, especially after he has been consulting government lawyers.

And when you look as the proposals, you see the games that they have been playing.. The lawyers have been going carefully through the law books comparing UK and EU law and, where the British law is more demanding, they have dropped it back to match the EU requirements.

Thus we see Beecroft recommending an end to a mandatory 90-day consultation period when a company is considering redundancy programmes. Can he do that? Well, the EU law requires only 30 days, so yes he can. And guess what, Mr Beecroft "recommends a 30-day period" – lifting it from November proposals.

Similarly, there is to be a recommendation to end provisions in the Equality Act which make employers liable for claims from employees for "third party harassment" — for example, customers making “sexist” comments to staff in a restaurant. That is not a problem because such a provision is absent from the EU’s otherwise highly damaging equality directive.

Employment law, as we know, is an EU "competence" and, since there is a considerable body of European law, this is an "occupied field", where no changes to national legislation may be made, without the approval of the EU commission.

At its very best, therefore, this little exercise can do nothing more than bring British law closer into line with EU law, where such differences exist. One must give the lawyers credit for finding twenty such, but that does make for a "radical" plan, or anything like a significant reform.

But that is all that is now left to Cameron – finding marginal issues, where he can cut back some of the excess, then making a big deal of hat he has done, spinning it for all that it is worth.

Needless to say, you will not find any reference to the European Union in the newspaper report. To mention it would give the game away, revealing that once again Cameron is trying to con the British people into thinking he is still in control. And so do the papers conspire with the establishment to keep their readers in the dark.


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