Opinion: Shares for Rights? An open letter to Nick Clegg

Dear Nick

Like most people I have spoken to this week I had imagined that Osborne’s announcement of “shares-for-rights” was for the Tory conference audience, and would not see its way into government policy, not at least while the Liberal Democrats are part of the government.

Yet today I read in Tim Gordon’s weekly update that we actually are supporting this as a promotion of employee ownership! Nick, it is anything but!!

This is Beecroft by the back door.

We are told by Tim Gordon that we should not worry, it is entirely voluntary. No, it is not, just read the press release on the BIS and Treasury websites. Companies will be free to mandate this new form of contract for any new employee. Where is the choice in that?

Tim goes on to state that “We expect it to suit a small number of niche start-up companies, such as small tech businesses that hope to expand rapidly, but it is unlikely to suit the vast majority of businesses.” So that is all right then, is it? NO, it is not! This drives a coach and horses through previous employment law, and takes us back several decades.

I have set up small firms with employee ownership, and can tell you that I do not need to remove employee rights to do so, nor to encourage employee ownership – for many small start-ups it goes with the territory anyway, as small companies need their few employees to be tied to the company’s future.

I would also draw your attention to the motion passed in Brighton on employee ownership, and policy paper 106 to which it refers. If you have not had time to read this, please do. I think you will agree that the substance of Osborne’s proposals fly in the face of what we have just voted for. Employee rights and employee ownership are not mutually exclusive.

I am just hoping that in the current recess, eyes have been off the ball, and you have not had time to consider the party’s response to this buffoonery. I hope you will act quickly and resolutely to clearly mark our opposition to the loss of employee rights, and use the opportunity to push forward the policies contained within PP106 that conference has only just endorsed.

Yours in haste,

Nigel Quinton
2010 Candidate for Hitchin & Harpenden
Chair, Welwyn Hatfield Liberal Democrats

* Nigel Quinton was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hitchin & Harpenden and is Chair of Welwyn Hatfield Liberal Democrats

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32 Comments

  • The notion that employees should be given a stake in the company they work for is a good one.
    The idea that this should cost you your employmewnt rights is a bad one.
    Perfect ground for the LibDs to use their influence for the good of Britain.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 12th Oct '12 - 1:52pm

    Thank you, Nigel. Well said!

  • “Yet today I read in Tim Gordon’s weekly update that we actually are supporting this as a promotion of employee ownership!”

    This is becoming ridiculous.

  • Sadie Smith 12th Oct '12 - 2:49pm

    Entire
    Entirely agree with Nigel’s argument. And I do see difficulty in properly according value to the shares for start-ups.
    It takes the emphasis away from proper co-ownership and back to Beecroft. ianal but I hope the law would override.

  • Nigel Quinton 12th Oct '12 - 3:00pm

    There has been much comment on facebook groups in the past 24 hours and I am hopeful that the party is going to come out strongly against the proposals as laid out in the BIS/Treasury press release. http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/press_91_12.htm
    Incidentally there is plenty else in the list of news from HM Treasury for us to be up in arms about – eg tax incentives for shale gas.

  • Nigel Quinton 12th Oct '12 - 3:03pm

    Here is the link to LibDem party policy on Employee Ownership – and how we should be promoting this without impinging on employee rights: http://tinyurl.com/c66e7ln

  • Can I co-sign this?

  • Liberal Neil 12th Oct '12 - 4:19pm

    The clue is in the word “rights”.

  • What is this nonsense? It is quite clear this Country has the weakest employment protection in Europe. Does good employmen protection legisaltion damage productivity, no the evidence suggests the opposite. The LIberal Democrats must resit this populist nonsense.

  • Well said, couldn’t have put it better myself

  • Chris Lucas 12th Oct '12 - 5:37pm

    What I can’t understand is how any Liberal Democrat might think this is a good idea. One’s rights shouldn’t be played with or traded like Panini stickers – they should be sacrosanct, inalienable and universal….

    I’m all for employees having shares in the organisations they work in but not at the expense of employment rights… This is one of those markers that shows how different we are from the Tories. Please don’t let us fall for this particular hospital pass… Have we learned nothing from tuition fees, secret courts, AV, House of Lords reform, etc…?

  • paul barker 12th Oct '12 - 6:13pm

    There seems to be a lot of confusion here.
    Firstly, giving people the right to do something isnt the same as saying they should do it.
    The proposal is that employees should have the right to waive some employment protection for a limited period in return for share options which would have a monetary value. It would involve signing a contract. Any attempt to pressure workers into signing would be pretty stupid as it would invlidate the contract & leave employers open to court costs/damages etc.
    I am not taking any position on whether it would be a good idea for anyone to sign one of these deals but I cant see anything illiberal about giving them the right to sign if they wanted to.

  • @Paul – the choice lies with employers though. AIUI they will be able to set this as mandatory for employees. So there won’t be any choice for a new employee to sign it.

  • Peter Watson 12th Oct '12 - 6:48pm

    @Nigel – good article
    @ProBook – good synopsis

  • “@Paul – the choice lies with employers though. AIUI they will be able to set this as mandatory for employees. So there won’t be any choice for a new employee to sign it.”

    I support the argument we’re about to hear is that people can make the choice not to sign it by remaining unemployed. Great.

  • As Nigel said there’s been lots of discussion within LibDem facebook groups about this over the last few days, mostly consternation as to how this has found its way into the government policy. Lets be completely straight this is the Tory original sack on the spot they originally wanted but with jazz hands. Any bad boss will use this to their advantage not the employees…we have dropped the ball big time on this.

    I work in an office of 7 people ,4 Tory voters (Including a Director who when a girl gave Thatcher flowers as a young conservative) 1 unaligned , 1 labour and a LibDem (me)…I asked all if anyone considered this a good idea…100% against.

    So before we find ourselves arguing any more for a policy that is only supported by far right Tory’s …lets dump this like the hot potato it is.

  • @ Chris Lucas – are they really Lib Dems, though? There is some evidence that even a quite high ranking MEP considered Clegg a Tory stooge.

  • John Carlisle 13th Oct '12 - 7:45am

    This is a Vince Cable problem, not Nick Clegg. Vince still thinks like a Treasury mandarin, which is why we still have no real growth strategy. When it comes to business on the ground he does not get it, and agreeing this half-witted Rightwing nonsense just illustrates the problem further. So Nick carries the can, most unfairly.
    It is time to hold Vince to account, and not just for this debacle.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 13th Oct '12 - 8:49am

    This was an open letter to Nick Clegg; is that right?
    So, is there any chance of an open response from the addressee?

  • “Companies will be free to mandate this new form of contract for any new employee. ”

    i.e. Just like with the Working Time Directive, where signing away limitations on your working week was supposed to be “purely voluntary” whereas in fact in my experience I was made to sign the opt out as a condition of getting a job.

    This is an utterly despicable proposal and Nick Clegg should be opposing it in no uncertain terms.

    I agree with commenters above: this idea is Beecroft by the back door and should be junked immediately.

  • Peter Chivall 13th Oct '12 - 11:20am

    Not in my name – NO. Bu**er off you Orange Bookers! Vince and Danny, this has to be a cock-up. There’s no way this Beecroft-inspired piece of pre-Victorian exploitation can be compatible with the policies of our Party, restated only 3 weeks ago.
    I presume it will need primary legislation to enact it. Our MPs should vote against, to a woman and man! Vince must put an item in next week’s LD News denouncing the Treasury version and restating that employee rights will continue to be upheld by LibDems in Government.
    The only employers who need this ‘laisse-faire’ nonsense are incompetent, lazy or greedy.

  • Brian Powell 13th Oct '12 - 11:53am

    This is indeed an ill thought out piece of legislation.
    For one thing a shareholder is a part-owner of said company and I would have thought it impossible to sack a part-owner, unless of course he was willing to sell his shares.
    Just the same as it would be impossible to give one part-owner, any more ‘rights’ than any other. Meaning that everyone who worked for and held shares in the said company would have exactly the same ‘rights’ as the directors etc.
    Could mean employment for life. As well as highly enhanced pay rises.

  • I raised this with Tom McNally in open session at last night’s St Albans LibDem dinner with 100 members and supporters present, saying that we expect Tories to spout nonsense at their conference but we don’t expect our party to endorse it. A lot of applause for my raising it, we all need to lobby our ministers wherever we can.

  • Helen Dudden 14th Oct '12 - 11:01am

    I can’t see the proposals of share involvement working in every case, I agree there is too much trying to make change for the sake of it.

    I should like Nick to come and talk to his councillors in the city of Bath, we need homes and if I say this once more. Nick take some thoughts on what I have written, we are those who vote for you, and we expect some positive actions, by those who were elected, even locally.

  • If we support policies like this with enthusiasm the party won’t even have its defender of human rights badge to fall back on…

    One has to ask.. if this is price of power do we really want/deserve it?

  • Helen Dudden 14th Oct '12 - 8:43pm

    Is that badge begining to fade? We need human rights, it is the fabric of Justice and Freedom for all. Remember the Thatcher years, not that long ago.

    We also need to care for those, who can’t care for themselves.

  • I basically agree with Nigel’s sentiment – but worth bearing in mind that a lot of these rights already only kick in quite a long way into the job – unfair dismissal is 2 years, as is redundancy pay. Flexible working is a much weaker right anyway in that employers can straight up refuse it – it’s only a right to request.

  • Also, where was Jo Swinson on this? This is presumably right within her purview as minister for employment relations?

  • nigel quinton 15th Oct '12 - 5:22pm

    4 days since writing this letter, and another to Tim Gordon, and I have yet to see any persuasive argument for us to support this policy, but sadly it does seem that Vince is supporting it nonetheless – see his response on LDV today. The best Vince has managed so far is similar to what was in Tim Gordon’s briefing – ie it will only affect a few companies and individuals. There is a (LibDem) policy and communications vacuum at the top of our party and it needs to be filled forthwith if we are not going to face complete meltdown.

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