Elsewhere in today’s TFI bulletin my Downtown colleague and fellow blogger Jim Hancock has, far more ably than I could, explained the political pressure that this week saw Prime Minister David Cameron take the rather reckless decision to offer an ‘in or out of Europe’ referendum if the Conservatives win an outright majority at the next election.
For most businesses I have spoken to, the uncertainty that this presents is far from helpful at a time when we live in a very uncertain world anyway – and the general view is that it makes the UK look a little immature, and more than a little parochial.
However, whether you are pro Europe or anti, the one thing that a vast majority of business owners will agree on is that many of the rules and regulations that surround employment law and the wider health and safety agenda that emanates from Brussels are an absolute minefield.
The cost of implementing and complying with such complex bureaucracy is nothing short of scandalous. It not only encourages poor staff to adopt a ‘where there’s blame, there’s a claim’ culture when they are dismissed for legitimate reasons; but it discourages business owners from recruiting for fear of being taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous employees, aided and abetted by state financed advisors.
As the son of a Trades Union activist, and as someone who became a politician to promote equality, fairness in the workplace and social justice, I am now disappointed to have to say that the pendulum has swung too far in favour of employees.
I support the minimum wage, equal pay for women and the rights of workers to be protected from genuine cases of unfair dismissal. However, it is simply a fact that sometimes a member of staff doesn’t fit the role they were appointed to, doesn’t have the skills they claimed to have, or fail to demonstrate the level of dedication and commitment that a job requires. In such cases dismissal should be an option, without the necessity of consulting with a Philadelphia lawyer.
And what protection for the business owner when a member of staff who you have invested time, energy, resource and money simply decides they have had enough, walk away, without the courtesy of working their notice period or having the professionalism, not to mention loyalty, of providing a smooth transition and handover? The answer, of course, is NONE!
However, on the point of EU inspired red tape, I have to say that I am of the opinion that it’s not them, it’s us.
I have visited pub play areas in Spain, seen building work taking place in Italy, observed how the Irish interpret the rules governing European funding programmes. None of them abide to the letter of the law to the nth degree as we in the UK do.
Our civil servants from Westminster to Westmoreland insist on every European I being dotted and T being crossed before they will approve a contract; issue a licence or provide a safety certificate. The word ‘advice’ is confused with ‘legally binding’ – but only here.
The French, the Germans, the Italians and our other euro partners are baffled by the UKs obsession with accepting every piece of advice Brussels throws at us. It’s not a renegotiation or a referendum we need. It’s a dose of common sense injected into the jobs-worth brigade, so that legislation is implemented flexibly and in the spirit in which much of it was meant.