Gone are the days of protecting the protected

Are you having staff problems? Do you wish it were easier to discipline or even fire some of them?

The GP Record, by Fran Orford www.francartoons.com
The GP Record, by Fran Orford www.francartoons.com

Businesses today often feel held to ransom by poor-quality staff who threaten to go to the employment tribunal if they are sacked. Faced with the potential cost and time involved, many firms back down - or alternatively, resign themselves to giving out totally unmerited severance pay.

The government is planning to change this by making it easier to dismiss unsatisfactory staff. Firms will also be able to lay off people within the first two years of their employment without facing legal action. And to discourage frivolous or vexatious claims, sacked employees will have to pay a fee to take their former employer to a tribunal.

Having to put up with poor-quality staff is unfair all round. It is unfair on the business, which may feel forced to continue employing those workers who are substandard, but in a nebulous, difficult-to-prove way. It is unfair on the other staff, who constantly feel that they are carrying a passenger, and have to work harder to compensate.

Most importantly, it is unfair on those who would dearly like to be employed but are denied the opportunity because an unsatisfactory employee is still in post. And in healthcare, having substandard staff is clearly unfair on the patients, who inevitably get inferior (or even dangerous) treatment.

I'm all for maintaining high quality - and society should remove anything that gets in its way. Protectionism has no place in an efficient system, whether that protectionism is of markets, goods or people.

Whenever society erects artificial barriers to prevent true competition, then the real loser is society itself, because it becomes less efficient. High quality doesn't need protecting: as in evolution, it self-selects.

But what about the people? Shouldn't we be concerned about the human cost of sacking staff? Yes, of course we should - but this can only be of secondary concern. Businesses are not charities: in particular, healthcare businesses must be run for the good of their patients rather than the feather-bedding of their staff.

Therefore, harsh though they may seem at first, I see a great deal of good coming from the government's plans.

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