There has been a great deal of press coverage about the Government’s proposal to halve the consultation period for large scale redundancies from 90 days to 45 days.

According to employment relations minister Jo Swinson (yes, I’d never heard of her either until now):

The process is usually completed well within the existing 90-day minimum period, which can cause unnecessary delays for restructuring and make it difficult for those affected to get new jobs quickly. Our reforms will strike an appropriate balance between making sure employees are engaged in decisions about their future and allowing employers greater certainty and flexibility to take necessary steps to restructure.

However, Brendan Barber of the TUC countered this:

The last thing we need is for the government to make it easier to sack people. Unemployment has not gone as high as many feared because employers have worked with unions to save jobs, even if it has meant sharing round fewer hours and less work.

“The need to consult unions has made an important contribution to that, and also given staff, many of whom will have had years of loyal service, time to think through their options.

“These measures will not create a single extra job. The idea that an employer will change their mind about taking someone on because the statutory redundancy consultation period has been reduced from 90 to 45 days is close to absurd.

“Removing consultation rights from fixed-term contract staff will seriously increase job and financial insecurity for vulnerable groups of workers, and temporary staff will lose out on redeployment opportunities.

I find that in practice one of the most common misconceptions about redundancies is that they are all subject to a minimum consultation period. Even for a single redundancy people will often say "but what about the 90 days’ consultation?". However, employers must consult with staff for a minimum of 30 days if 20 or more redundancies are contemplated at a particular establishment and for 90 days only if 100 or more redundancies are envisaged. Redundancies involving fewer than 20 employees are not subject to any fixed period, although the period must be "reasonable". In practice, taking into account the need for employees to consider the process and, in particular, to think about alternatives, my advice is that it is rarely reasonable for the process to be completed from start to finish un under two weeks. However, that is by no means a rigid rule and can vary significantly according to the particular circumstances.

As to when the process starts, please refer to my November article concerning the European Court of Justice decision in USA -v- Nolan.