Now its not like me to get into politics (ahem!) but there is one development that occurred this week that has not got me a bit concerned (sheer British understatement!).
Although for most of us the UK’s political parties’ annual conferences are merely an excuse for elaborate speeches and empty promises, Osborne’s invitation to employees to give up their workplace rights in exchange for owning tax-free shares in their companies seemed truly out of touch. The plan effectively involves workers gambling on their career prospects, by sacrificing their protection against unfair dismissal and other rights in return for profits on company shares which will be free from capital gains tax. Now to me, this seems so wrong on so many different levels that I will stick to those that are closest to my and Parental Choice’s hearts: the rights of parents.
According to the proposal, employees will receive between £2,000 and £50,000 in return for giving up their rights to bring a claim for unfair dismissal, redundancy, and the right to request flexible working and time off for training. New mothers would be required to provide 16 weeks’ notice of a firm date of return from maternity leave, rather than the current eight week limit. However, if you give up your right to flexible working, your rights to decide on your maternity leave or your right to claim unfair dismissal for the sake of owning shares, which lets face it in a recession may or may not be worth the paper they are written on (look at the rapid decline of Facebook shares in recent months!), then it seems to me that you are taking a massive gamble on your family life. For a government that claims to be all about the family, this seems like a massive investment in companies and not in ordinary every day people. So the Government will charge no capital gains tax at all on the profit you make on your shares. Zero percent capital gains tax for these new employee-owners but what happens if you make no profit in the first place and then you are dismissed having had no time to train in order to get the skills to find a new job and with no money to allow you some breathing space whilst you do look for a new job?
Commenting on George Osborne’s owner-employee scheme, Working Families Chief Executive, Sarah Jackson said: “Employers beware. Offering owner employee contracts – where employees effectively sell their employment rights for shares – is unlikely to deliver the highly motivated, engaged workforce you need. Few men or women with family responsibilities would want such a contract and we would advise callers to our free legal helpline to think long and hard before accepting such a one-way deal. Shares can go down as well as up. You could end up with no job security or employment rights and worthless shares. But it also flies in the face of everything we know about productivity and employee engagement. Treat your employees well, give them the flexibility they need, and you will be rewarded by highly motivated and high performing employees.”
For so many parents who are trying to negotiate flexible working patterns with their employers in order to enable them to organise their childcare (which is already so ridiculously expensive in this country) and be back in time to take care of their children, proposing such a policy really seems to be sticking two fingers up at the people who are trying their best to work and have a career. Political parties talk about the “squeezed middle” and looking after those who are really feeling the pinch in these economic times but taking away their rights for the sake of a potential rise in the value of their shares seems at best naive and at worst insulting!
I will get off my soap box now, I promise, but just if Mr. Osborne or any of his cronnies happen to read this blog, do please spare a thought for those parents out there for whom such rights have been fought for and which actually mean something. Don’t take a gamble on our rights!
For more information on Working Families, please go to http://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/
- Osborne’s new jobs offer: give up your workplace rights (independent.co.uk)
- George Osborne: workers of the world unite…and give up your employment rights (telegraph.co.uk)
- ‘Employee shares for rights’ Q&A: what the proposals will mean (guardian.co.uk)
- Shares for Rights – George Osborne’s ill thought out plan (employmentlawupdate.wordpress.com)