Fixed term contracts (Clause 17)
Employees on fixed term contracts will no longer be able to sign away their rights to claim unfair dismissal when their contract expires. If the contract expires and is not renewed they will be able to claim unfair dismissal on the same basis as other workers.
This will prevent employers from routinely insisting that fixed-term workers give up legal protection and prevent the type of abuse opened up by the Appeal Court decision in BBC v Kelly-Phillips.
Employers can still require workers to sign away their right to receive a redundancy payment when their contract expires.
Extending employment rights (Clause 21)
The Government has demonstrated a commitment to broadening the coverage of employment rights. The National Minimum Wage Act and the Working Time Regulations already extend to "workers", which is a broader category than employees. This broader category includes casual workers, freelancers and contract workers: indeed, all those who contract to provide their services personally unless they are doing so as a trade or profession to a customer or client. There are also specific provisions protecting agency workers and, in the case of the minimum wage, homeworkers.
This progressive approach is evident in the new Bill. The right to be accompanied on discipline and grievance extends to all workers (Clauses 11-14, see below) and the Government has taken the power to make Regulations to extend some or all employment rights to the wider category of workers.
Unfair dismissal: qualifying period and compensation (Clauses 29 and 30)
The Government proposes to issue an order reducing the qualifying period for unfair dismissal protection from two years' continuous service to one year.
The proposal to remove the cap on unfair dismissal compensation has been dropped, but the maximum compensatory award will be increased from £12,000 to £50,000. The limits in the legislation on week's pay, basic award for unfair dismissal, guarantee payments and right to trade union membership will be automatically increased in line with inflation in future years.
The current system of additional and special awards in trade union, health and safety, pension trustees or employee representatives dismissals will be replaced with a single "additional award" of between 26 and 52 weeks' pay.