The former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, whose brush with controversy during his front bench career came to an abrupt end last year, has changed defence for attack this week in his support for a revival of the proposal in the Beecroft report to make the dismissal of employees easier and safer for employers.
"It is too difficult to hire and fire, and too expensive to take on new employees. It is intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable while output and employment are clearly cyclical." said Mr Fox this week.
We therefore await with interest the degree to which the proposals will be part of “Hunt Master” George Osborne’s “tally ho” message in next month’s March 21 budget. The hounds are baying for blood on the Conservative back benches as they smell the possibility of an easy kill for employers being introduced sooner rather than later.
The Chancellor is under pressure to amend employment protection laws as part of a "go for growth" package. David Cameron is sympathetic to the backbench demands but they are being strongly opposed by the “anti hunt” protesters, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary.
It is likely therefore that there will be a Lib Dem strategy to throw the pack off the scent by suggesting different and less cruel alternatives. These are likely to include limiting the "fire at will" proposal to those employed by firms with fewer than 10 workers. .
Also, the introduction of a "protected conversation" between employer and employee may be proposed, the details and existence of which could not be used in evidence at any subsequent tribunal hearing. This is effectively where, if you will, the leader of the pack might call round to the fox’s covert and enquire whether the quarry might quite like to “get orf my land”, thereby enabling the hounds to have a day off.
A final alternative solution may be a process, possibly involving the conciliation service ACAS, under which an employer offers a lure by drafting a letter telling an employee he or she could be dismissed and offering a small severance payment to leave quickly without damage to their reputation. By giving the employee the right to say no would mean that future employment rights would not be eroded.
Will employers continue to experience the thrill of the chase before the kill? Or will they be given a swift and deadly weapon to put down the pest? Listen out for the fanfare in March!