Belfast Telegraph

Bosses back shake-up in employment laws

BY MARGARET CANNING

Changes must be made to employment law to make Northern Ireland more attractive to investors, it has been claimed.

Employer organisations support tweaks to the regime as Employment Minister Stephen Farry today launches a consultation.

But opponents say proposals such as extending the period it takes an employee to become eligible to take an action for unfair dismissal to two years from one will make it easier to sack people.

Other proposals are less controversial, such as extending the role of the Labour Relations Agency in dealing with complaints before they reach a tribunal, where employment law cases are conducted. The rest of the UK recently cut the time for which an employer has to consult with a union when making redundancies, and increased the qualifying period for unfair dismissal to two years.

As employment law is a devolved matter, Northern Ireland can have a separate employment regime to Britain.

But economist John Simpson said Northern Ireland's system should be the same as the UK's.

"This is a welcome step. The increasing difference between here and Britain is being conspicuous and I know that some of the bigger employers regard it as an absolute nuisance, if not more. This and electricity prices are the two things that are the biggest bugbears of the major employers."

He said employment rights were still being maintained in the UK but that changes were needed to make the system "more flexible".

Reform is supported by employer body the CBI, which said it was "particularly pleased" that the Government will consult on matters such as the qualifying period for unfair dismissal.

Employment and Learning Minister Farry said: "Getting the right balance will always be challenging and will require partnership and a degree of flexibility if we are to create an employment relations system that enhances competitiveness and also offers employees the right working environment."

But Sinn Fein's Phil Flanagan said: "We shouldn't row in behind what's happening in England just because it's happening in England."

Increasing the qualifying period for unfair dismissal to two years was wrong, he added.

He dismissed the claim that two years would give firms longer to get to know staff abilities, saying he could see no evidence it would create "one extra job".

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