National Minimum Wage rates are to be increased for adult workers and apprentices from 1 October 2012 but current rates are to remain frozen for young workers. The adult rate will be increased by a miserly 11p to £6.19 an hour and the apprentice rate will be increased by an even more miserly 5p to £2.65 an hour. Rates for young workers will remain unchanged, at £4.98 an hour for 18-20 year olds and £3.68 an hour for 16-17 year olds. This means that all workers on the minimum wage will suffer a pay cut in real terms and it is disappointing that the Low Pay Commission (which has union as well as business representation) should have unanimously recommended the new rates. Still, realising that they will never be required to work for such a pittance, must have made the decision easier for Committee members.
State benefit rate changes from 6 April 2012 include: Jobseekers Allowance – up £2.80 a week to £56.25 for under-25s and up £3.50 a week to £71 for over-25s; Statutory Maternity and Paternity Pay – up £6.72 a week to £135.45; Statutory Sick Pay – Up £4.25 a week to £85.85. However Child Tax Credit, which had been available to parents earning up to £41,000 a year, will now be restricted to parents earning up to £26,000 (one child), £32,000 (two children) and £38,000 (three children). Working Tax Credit is also being restricted and couples with children will now have to work 24, rather than 16 hours a week to qualify.
Unfair dismissal protection could be weakened for up to 2.7 million employees following the decision to double (to two years) the qualifying period for making unfair dismissal claims to Employment Tribunals, from 6 April 2012. Even though workers in employment at that date will still be able to make claims after one year’s service, there will be a disproportionate effect on some groups, according to the TUC. These will include women working part time, employees from black and minority ethnic communities and young workers, whose length of service tends to be shorter than for the majority of employees. The coalition argues that watering down unfair dismissal protection will help boost recruitment but the TUC, rightly in our view, believes it will encourage a ‘hire and fire’ culture which will lead to increasing numbers being shown the door. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that short-service workers who are dismissed will sometimes be able to make ET claims on issues such as discrimination. A union member I have been representing was recently dismissed after complaining that the manager was being racist towards her. Unable to claim unfair dismissal because of short service, the member made a claim of race discrimination and victimisation (suffering a detriment as a result of complaining about discrimination). That resulted in a decent out of court settlement, despite the fact that an unfair dismissal claim could not be made.
Moving to part time work after maternity is not a legal right in the UK, although there is a right to request it and employers are supposed to give serious consideration to such requests. It is therefore encouraging to note that HSBC has announced that it will now guarantee a part-time role at current title and salary grade, if requested, to all staff returning from maternity or paternity leave. This is believed to be the first time that such a large company has offered this guarantee and it is hoped that it will increase pressure on others to do likewise. HSBC also offers 14 weeks’ maternity leave on full pay (as opposed to the statutory six weeks at 90% of pay) and up to 12 days leave for fertility treatment a year.
Parental leave rights should have been improved from 8 March 2012 but the coalition has postponed the improvement. The current rule is that employees with at least a year’s service can take up to 13 weeks’ unpaid leave (in one week units) for each child, provided the child is under age 5, under 18 if disabled or within five years of placement if adopted. There had been EU agreement that this would rise to 18 weeks but this will not now happen until 2013.
Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.