Shadow business secretary unveils his plans to be HR’s white knight


Shadow business secretary Alan Duncan has pledged to fight for HR against excessive legislation and a “grotty” employment tribunal system.

In an exclusive interview with Personnel Today, Duncan said a Tory government would slash legislation that makes HR’s job harder.

“Under me, HR directors would have improvements in employment law and employment tribunals, which directly affect them,” he said.

He promised that employees losing employment tribunal claims would be forced to pay employers’ costs, and that the voice of UK business would be heard in Westminster and Brussels.

“Tribunals never award costs to the person who applied, but they should. They don’t even apply the existing rules, so we’re getting lots of frivolous, malicious complaints where you then get three inspectors and 40-page judgments for a pay-out of £5,000, none of which is justified in any respect whatsoever,” he said. “It’s a pretty grotty system that needs a real shake-up.”

Duncan also criticised the Agency Workers Directive, which was passed last month by the European Parliament. It will give temporary workers in the UK equal rights to permanent staff after 12 weeks with an employer, a qualifying period agreed by business group the CBI and union body the TUC.

John Cridland, the CBI’s deputy director-general, described the deal at the time as the “least worst outcome” available.

Duncan told Personnel Today: “I think the CBI was forced into a pretty grotty little deal, but it didn’t have much choice. It’s a totally unnecessary and unwelcome piece of legislation which I just think politicians should be ashamed of.

“They should stay away from making such prescriptive legislation. They know nothing about business, and this will just destroy so much,” he added.

Duncan slammed comparisons between him and Peter Mandelson, but lamented that he couldn’t challenge the current business secretary directly in Parliament on employment issues.

“The Tory Mandelson? It’s not true, there’s a very big difference between he and I,” said Duncan. “Also, he’s in the Lords, not opposite me in the Commons, so the department does not have a minister of Cabinet rank who can answer my questions in the House.”

HR backs Duncan’s battle cry

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) employee relations adviser Mike Emmott welcomed Alan Duncan’s comments.

“His championing of the simplification of employment law appears to recognise that not all employment law is bad, but that some of it can be improved. We share with Alan Duncan the belief that employers should be encouraged to adopt good practice because it’s good for business, not because they are compelled to do it by regulations,” Emmott said.

Emmott added that alternative dispute resolution tactics, which avoided tribunal hearings, had a big role to play, and that the CIPD would be happy to work with any party seeking to improve the dispute process.

“Qualified HR professionals should be authorised to sign compromise agreements, which would help reduce the number of cases going through unnecessarily complex tribunal processes.

“Agency workers bring flexibility to our economy, but the new Agency Workers Directive will restrict that flexibility, so we’d have preferred no Agency Workers Directive. We agree with [Alan] Duncan, that the directive backed by the CBI was a poor one for the UK labour market.”

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