General HR, Redundancy & Trade Unions Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Will the new Employment Tribunal fees give employers some protection?

On the face of it the new charges on employees seeking redress for workplace issues via tribunals could be good news for employers, particularly SMEs.
In theory, as the FSB has pointed out, the £160-£250 to lodge a claim and the £230 or £950 fee if the case goes ahead ought to deter weak or frivolous claims that businesses have hitherto felt obliged to settle without contesting for fear of huge legal bills.
A client of mine recently had a male employee who, after a couple of warnings, was then made redundant. Despite ample evidence that he had had several recent girlfriends he then took the company to tribunal, encouraged by a solicitor’s no win no fee deal, for unfair dismissal on grounds of his sexual orientation as a gay man! The company settled out of court for £7000 for fear of high legal costs if they contested in court.
When turning around companies I believe in working with the unions or employee representatives when reorganising staff or redundancy. Indeed K2 now has a former union official who as our ‘Employee Liaison Officer’ specialises in managing the process. Equally, it is important that employers follow all the correct procedures when using redundancy.
However, there are some caveats about how effective a deterrent to weak claims the new payments will be.  Firstly, Unison has been granted permission for a judicial review on the introduction of fees. Secondly, costs can be reduced where there are multiple claims of two or more people against the same employer. Similarly fees can be significantly reduced or waived where a claimant cannot pay.  Thirdly will the new fees deter the “ambulance chaser” lawyers offering no win no fee deals?
In our view the jury is still out on whether this new ruling will make life easier for employers. What do others think?

General Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Involving employees can be crucial to successful company restructuring

It shouldn’t be rocket science to accept that giving employees a stake in their company’s future encourages commitment and efficiency.
The John Lewis Partnership, owners of John Lewis department stores and Waitrose, is perhaps the most famous example of a company that fully involves its employees in both decision-making and a share of its profits, and now Sports Direct has announced that its staff will receive bonuses following a record year for profits.
But what happens if a company gets into difficulties and needs restructuring to survive?
Often, the employees are the last to know and this can make turning around a company much more difficult.  While directors try to keep information to themselves employees will usually know that something is wrong and an atmosphere of uncertainty may only make things worse as key people start looking for other work and productivity drops even further.
While trades unions regularly suffer from a negative press we would argue that their involvement in negotiations during restructuring can have positive benefits, not only in consulting with workers about the way forward and keeping them informed, but also in negotiating agreements should shorter working hours or redundancies be necessary. To help reassure those concerned about trusting unions to keep turnaround plans confidential there exists a protocol confidentiality agreement that was developed by the TMA (Turnaround Management Association UK) in association with the TUC.
We would be interested to hear from anyone who has had experience of union involvement in turning around a failing company.

Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

A revolution in business culture?

Are the super rich at the World Economic Forum in Davos “morally and intellectually bankrupt” as opined by Will Hutton in last Sunday’s Observer? He argues that many of them generate excessive profits by squeezing employees’ wages. More tenuous is his view that this lack of wealth redistribution is restricting economies that would otherwise trade out of recession if employees had more to spend. 
However Mr Hutton does have a point: “Reality will out. Everyone knows by now, even in Davos, that there can be no return to the world before 2008, relying as it did on abundant supplies of cheap credit. Equally, we need our economies to grow with real, sustainable growth, as opposed to an artificially stimulated variety….. Real growth can only be achieved by the economic empowerment of ordinary men and women, by promoting individuals to become capitalists, to want to be owners who will bear the pain, and also share the spoils.”
He suggests: “It is a wonderful opportunity for enlightened business leaders, politicians, trade unions and indeed all of us to reimagine the role of people in western societies. One of the reasons it has been easy to reduce the power of people in the Anglo-Saxon world is through fear, fear of change. This has preserved the status quo and kept incumbent leaders in power.”
Those with long memories will recall the militant opposition of the British trade union movement to co-determination – that is, putting workers on company boards – in the 1970s: stupid. 
Yet Britain, and the West for that matter, needs a way of relating labour to capital. We need to engage employees by encouraging ownership and sharing the benefits of their efforts. It seems an impossible ask. We need employee representatives, union negotiators and business leaders to become leaders of change. Not confrontational or militant style negotiation of change, take it or leave it, one out, all out but strategic leaders who can negotiate reward for productive effort – to argue for a share of the spoils when they are genuinely there, but acknowledge that it might involve sharing pain to get there. They should be able to cut deals and support firms when jobs are at risk, but also make sure the deals are fair for all stakeholders when the business is turned round. 
Hutton argues: “One way forward is co-determination, putting employee representatives on company boards. Another would be to revisit the ideas of Nobel prize winner Professor James Meade and organise compensation so that a firm’s profits are equitably shared between workers, management and shareholders.” 
Whether or not Davos is intellectually bankrupt, the ideology it champions will ultimately seek to preserve the interests of its delegates rather than promoting those of employees. Capitalism certainly requires intellectual challengers, social movements and union leaders to take risks and reimagine their role. 
The best time to negotiate a good deal for workers is when their employer really does need their support, when they are in a financial crisis and need to restructure to survive.