By Tim Hardy
You may have heard of the enterprise and regulatory reform bill but you probably haven’t heard the worst.
The bill is another piece of legislation where the Liberal Democrats have proved themselves to be every bit as nasty as the party on which they claim to have a moderating influence.
The publicity around private equity millionaire Adrian Beecroft’s demands for “a hire and fire business culture” is an example of Tories using the anchoring effect to make their own extreme measures seem slightly less revolting.
Honorary Tory, Vince Cable may have stopped short of the measures championed by disgraced MP Liam Fox of allowing bosses to sack workers at will with no redress at all – but instead he is allowing them to sack employees with a token pay-off which amounts to the same thing.
Moreover, the bill means
- the amount of compensation unfairly dismissed workers can receive has been reduced
- protections for whistleblowers at work have been stripped back
- the legal framework protecting employees from acts of sexual harassment and racial discrimination at work by third parties is now gone.
You might also have noticed that the Liberal Democrats in the words of Caroline Lucas “had a fit of amnesia” and forgot what they’d agreed at conference just weeks ago and failed to back other amendments to the bill that might have made the so-called “green investment bank” more than another exercise in greenwashing.
All of this is pretty vile if depressingly familiar but the worst is yet to come and you may not have noticed because the media has been distracted by other stories.
Last minute amendments have removed Section 47 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 without public consultation.
Karl Tonks, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) explained what this means.
At the moment, where an employer has been found to have breached health and safety regulations and someone has been injured as a result, the injured person has an automatic right to claim compensation. The law has been clear on this point since a landmark case was brought in 1898.
But the Government is now seeking changes which will mean the injured person will no longer be able to rely on this right, but will have effectively to start from scratch by proving that negligence has occurred. Not only is this move completely illogical to most right-thinking people, but it reduces the strength of current employment protection and will make pursuing an injured person’s rights more complicated and more expensive.
It also sends a clear signal to bosses that the safety of workers is no longer to be considered a priority.
Thompsons Soliciticors have warned that employers will be allowed to use the “general defence of ‘reasonable practicability’ (that the cost of controlling workplace health and safety risks are “grossly disproportionate” to the reduction in the risk)” to justify neglecting workplace safety. (Word: Return of the dark satanic mills: the end of civil liability in health and safety).
This is a 114-year-old fundamental employment right that has been thrown away by a bunch of ideological fanatics using a crisis created by their peers to further their own short-term interests.
As the Labour MP for Hartlepool Mr Iain Wright pointed out:
The TUC estimates that every year at least 20,000 people die prematurely as a result of injuries, illnesses, or accidents caused by or in their place of work. That is far too many. The shocking figure from the Health and Safety Executive of 173 workers who were fatally injured at work often excludes a large number of other work-related deaths, but that figure alone means that 173 people went to work and did not come back, and that should not happen in a modern, compassionate society.
But Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would rather repeat lies about the onerous burden of “political correctness” and “elf n safety” than reduce deaths and injuries in the workplace. They’re quite happy to see the death rate rise as long as share holders can profit.
In February 1932, Henry Ford’s goons used machine guns, tear gas and batons on strikers. It was a miracle that only four young men were killed.
Henry Ford, lest we forget, is now regarded as a hero of free enterprise.
We need to remind ourselves how hard workers have had to fight worldwide for the rights that protect us from extreme exploitation by the cruel and selfish.
In a world that demonises communism and lingers over the inexcusable horrors of Soviet totalitarianism, we need to remind ourselves the capitalism is not the ideology of saints and that on top of the structural violence of imposed austerity there are many examples of explicit, overt violence on the bodies of those who are tired and hungry and demand little more than to be treated with dignity as human beings.
We are seeing those rights being torn up by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and the welfare net that once might have protected us once cast out of work is also being destroyed.
“Cutting red tape” is the rallying cry of the evil men and women who are happy to see workplace injuries and deaths soar if it means they can squeeze even higher profits out of the labour of others.
In the words of investor Warren Buffett:
There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we‘re winning.
With these last-minute changes to the enterprise and regulatory reform bill that war just got a whole lot bloodier.