New Year. A time for resolutions. An opportunity for a fresh start. And, for many, the dawn of an unwelcome spell of unemployment.
The concluding weeks of 2012 have been given to an incongruous mix of feelings: on the one hand, we’ve giddily recalled a summer extravaganza of spirit-lifting running and jumping.
On the other, we’ve giddily picked at the carcass of Comet, hoping to scavenge a morsel of materialistic nourishment.
It’s not just the thousands of Comet employees, many in the West Midlands,that have fallen victim to very unfestive job losses.
Premier Foods announced 500 redundancies in our region a few weeks ago, devastating workers at the Garretts Green factory. Unquestionably, Santa’s sack has been bulging for all the wrong reasons this Christmas.
It’s the kind of untimely news that required a reassuring response from the Government; a response that proved the welfare of our worn workforce is uppermost in our Coalition’s eyes.
What did we get?
An announcement that sees a reduction in the consultation period for employers proposing to dismiss more than 100 employees through redundancy - from 90 to 45 days.
So from April 2013, it’s going to be easier to get rid of staff. Happy New Year, yeah? The announcement’s timing is grotty (I want to say ‘Santa’s grotty’, but feel it’s a pun too far.
Best to leave it, I think). This fundamental tweak to employment legislation doesn’t exactly inspire in the face of the afore-mentioned pre-Christmas redundancies, widespread job uncertainty, generally static pay and a higher cost of living.
Surely this is a December embellishment even more unnecessary than seeing the liver spots of a speechifying octogenarian monarch in 3D?
Well, it’s an embellishment that could be a money saver for our businesses. This motion, part of the Government’s attempt to alleviate red tape pressures, is hoped to save thousands of pounds. After all, delivering redundancy consultation is costly.
Furthermore, 90 days is a long time for a business to last before making vital reorganisation.
And cynics might suggest saving on 45 days-worth of wages might help struggling companies’ end of year results when we reach the back end of 2013 - who listens to cynics though, eh?
The fact is, even if your only New Year resolution was to “stop being so flipping cynical”, it’s hard to maintain faith that this change in consultation period will be a force for good.
Some have said reduced consultation time should lead to more effective, worthwhile consultation - presumably those same people support the argument that permanently reducing foreplay to an absolutely perfunctory minimum should lead to more effective lovemaking. To intentionally mangle my metaphor, if a business is already a bad lovemaker, time isn’t going to make a shred of difference to quality.
But...businesses do need help. We all know companies are having a tough time of it.
We also know no-one wants, or enjoys, the redundancy experience. And, it’s not just the pride of affected employees that’s hurt; dealing with the reduced productivity of staff, in a business that must already be in difficulties, must be financially and professionally demoralising.
Which, in turn, has the potential to impact on current trading and current employees.
Cut the period of that reduced productivity and the benefits to some businesses may be significant.
However, one of my New Year resolutions (I have loads - “have better hair” is number four on my list) is to ‘Be More Cynical’ - therefore, the plans to change redundancy consultation don’t wash with me yet.
Isn’t our challenging economic climate already punishing the individual more than the employer?
This change doesn’t reflect this. Instead, it arguably means the employee’s position will become weaker post April 2013, a year that could be an unhappy new one for many.
* Keith Gabriel is a Birmingham-based PR executive