UNIONS are bracing themselves for a flurry of sackings in the hospitality trade as bosses seek to off-load troublesome staff before the compensation ceiling for unfair dismissals rises at the end of the year.
The potential increase in pay-outs from £12,000 to £50,000 is one provision in the new Fairness at Work legislation (Caterer, 4 February, page 12).
The new law will also allow staff to take cases to industrial tribunals after one year's employment rather than two.
Firms in manufacturing and in the City have been discovered sacking problem staff to avoid increased pay-outs, according to human resources management magazine Personnel Today.
The GMB trade union believes similar sackings in hospitality are likely and has circulated questionnaires to all its regional officers for catering as part of a watching brief. But it has yet to come across such pre-emptive dismissals in the sector, a spokeswoman admitted.
Dave Turnbull, regional organiser for the TGWU, said it was a matter of concern if this was already happening in other sectors, but suspected hospitality employers lacked this level of sophistication in their approach to staff relations.
Martin Warren, employment law partner at law firm Eversheds, thought it "almost inevitable" that hospitality chiefs would be tempted to follow some of his manufacturing clients down this route.
But he warned there was a "fine balancing act" between seeking a "quick fix" now to avoid higher costs later and taking a cavalier attitude that would drive traumatised staff into the hands of the unions. He advised companies to ensure they had proper and fair disciplinary procedures in place.
by Angela Frewin