It didn’t meet with the same critical acclaim last week that the film of nearly the same name – The King’s Speech – did a few months ago. No one seemed very impressed by it, little detail was provided and what we have been promised has been mooted already. The business lobby were underwhelmed by the lack of specifics. The Government’s public discomfort continued as they managed to please no one. Business didn’t like the lack of detail and everyone else seemed underwhelmed. Ed Miliband had a good day, saying,
“No change, no hope – that is the real message of this Queen’s Speech.“
“In two years, you have gone from David Cameron to David Brent. That’s the reality“
Rather good, but isn’t it a rehash of Vince Cable’s memorable description of Gordon Brown as Mr Bean a few years back?
David Brent being, of course, the line manager from hell. The sort of person who would give lawyers endless work if he were conducting protected conversations, or trying to conciliate disputes.
It’s not surprising; the same old tired claims about needing to reform employment law to stimulate the economy. So, we’ll get the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform bill, which will require all Claimants to lodge their claims with ACAS and consider early conciliation. The Bill will also streamline employment tribunal procedures;
“Legislation will be introduced to reduce burdens on business by repealing unnecessary legislation.”
Expect the measures that have been trailed and consulted on already to be in it: ET issue fees, protected conversations, maybe even abolishing unfair dismissal claims for small businesses. The Beecroft report is said to be back in favour. Yawn.
The new Bill will also ring fence the retail banking functions of investment banks to protect us from the worst excesses of so-called casino capitalism. And, on a day when Commerzbank lost its case against 104 of its employees, the government will legislate to restrict bankers’ bonuses.
It’s not all about restricting or removing rights though. A Children and Families Bill will extend flexible working for parents. As a parent myself I welcome anything that makes life easier for people trying to balance work and home life, but if you want to find an area of employment rights that causes employers, especially smaller businesses, a headache on a daily basis it is flexible working, not unfair dismissal or discrimination claims. Even so, it’s to be welcomed.
The Commerzbank decision was an interesting one. I have not seen the Judgment yet but it seems that Mr Justice Owen made the right (but nonetheless still brave) decision to hold that Commerzbank must honour its contractual obligations to those employees to whom its predecessor Dresdner Kleinwort had promised bonuses. The Bank was not able to rely on the downturn in the economy and the worst results in its history to justify a “material adverse change” to allow them to vary those contracts. The bonuses due ranged from £12,000 to £2mn. In the end it seems to have been decided on straightforward contract law principles and fact rather than novel legal principles. Commerzbank were not able to persuade the Judge that the bonuses were discretionary. The Guardian reported a Commerzbank spokesman as saying;
“The main argument revolves around whether the announcement on 18 August amounted to a legally binding agreement. It is the bank’s submission that there is every prospect that the court of appeal would come to a different view on this matter”
So, it’s not over yet. Will there be “copycat litigation” ? Probably, but this was a dispute which had its origins in the 2008 financial crisis and the landscape is different now, due to the FSA’s Financial Remuneration Code which restricts the size of the largest bonus payments. Undoubtedly though, more scrutiny will be put on what is said by line managers when the “B” word comes up.