Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Supply services |or produce goods which are vital

Question: Now that the Northern Ireland economy has slipped into recession, what can we do to maximise the survival chances of our company?

Scott Alexander, head of training and development at Legal-Island employment law specialists in Antrim replies:

A recent newspaper story found that some women would go without a meal before they would relinquish make-up. People need food to survive, so make-up must be so close to necessary as makes little difference.

The answer is therefore pretty simple — produce goods or supply services that are viewed as vital when money is short: go cheap or go for quality/value.

If businesses cut costs they can sell cheaply and people love a bargain.

However, most people then find out that you get very nasty when you buy cheap.

Value for money offers seem so desirable to people they are almost necessary. They might cost more but they last longer.

These things bring in more money but sell in smaller numbers.

Among the options are to cut costs to reduce price, or improving quality to emphasise value and improving marketing so that people know about your offers.

In addition, you need to identify what makes your goods/services desirable and to emphasise the need to buy now or lose out

Sounds easy, but remember, you’re competing with food and cosmetics.

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Question: My firm has recently taken on the services of a cleaner but she is unsatisfactory. Can we fire her without giving a reason provided we do this within 12 months of taking her on?

Emma-Jane Flannery, a solicitor in the employment team at Arthur Cox solicitors, replies:

Many employers assume that so long as their employees have served less than 12 months with them, then they can terminate their employment without any fear of being sued for unfair dismissal. That assumption is only partly right, however, and it is now even more risky than ever to rely on it.

The statutory disciplinary and dismissal procedures (DDPs) were introduced in Northern Ireland in 2005.

As a minimum, employers must follow the three-step DDPs in relation to any proposed dismissal of any employee.

The DDPs apply to all employees from the first day of employment, so an employer cannot dismiss any probationary, temporary or recently recruited employee without having followed a DDP.

The DDPs involve setting out in writing the reasons why dismissal is being considered and asking the employee to attend a meeting, convening the meeting and giving the employee a right of appeal.

Although the cleaner will not have accrued any unfair dismissal rights as he/she does not have the requisite service, the risk of not following the DDPs is that he/she may claim that the dismissal was discriminatory, or that it was unfair for one of the reasons that does not require a qualifying period of employment (for example, dismissal related to

an employee's pregnancy or maternity leave). If the employee is successful in one of these claims and can show that the employer was at fault in not following the DDPs, the Industrial Tribunal will increase the level of compensation paid to the employee by between 10 and 50%.

As compensation in discrimination claims is not capped, the cost of failing to follow the DDPs in such cases could be considerable. The Labour Relations Agency's Code of Practice on handling disciplinary and grievance procedures states that disciplinary procedures should apply to all employees regardless of their length of service.

The procedure need not be the same as the workplace discipline and dismissal procedure that applies to permanent employees, providing it meets the minimum requirements of the DDPs.

Emma-Jane Flannery and her colleagues from Arthur Cox Solicitors in Belfast will be answering employment law questions live at Legal-Island’s Annual Review of NI Employment Law on November 13 at the Culloden Hotel and November 25 at the Ramada Hotel.

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Question: I have been operating solely within Northern Ireland but now want to target the Republic. Have you any advice?

Elaine Curran from Invest NI’s trade development services team replies:

As it is our nearest and most accessible export market, the Republic is a good place to target in order to increase your sales. There are few barriers to the free movement of goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic (RoI) and there are several support programmes that can help you to identify potential business opportunities.

There is no better way to explore a new market than by market visits which enable you to meet potential customers while researching the opportunities. Invest NI can help you organise these market visits.

If you are new to exporting, Invest NI’s Passport to Export programme can help you develop the practical skills you will need - www.investni.com/exportworkshops.

For further information on cross-border programmes to help companies target the RoI market, have a look at the InterTradeIreland website ( www.intertradeireland.com).

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