by Edward Hill
The States of Alderney are about to pass a raft of new employment laws.
The fact that not one of the manifestos of any of the states members mentioned this small footnote in their agenda is disingenuous enough. The fact that they might turn out to be ruinous is wholly unacceptable. The introduction of employment laws might represent a small step perhaps for highly unionized or comfortably off retiree mankind. It is, however, a huge leap into a commercial abyss for the business community on the island.
When questioned, one States member tried to play down their significance glibly saying with a flick of his hand: “You’ll be fine with them, when you see them.”
Will we be? Any one who thinks that Alderney is the right place for employment laws understands little about the fabric of the island’s economy.
Whilst admitting that some island employer practices have been sharp in the past and needed to be and indeed were publicly called out, the introduction of employment laws is not the solution to the problem.
Overbearing employment laws guarantee one thing: unemployment. Small businesses simply either do not set up and those that are established put an immediate block on any new hiring. It is a knee-jerk reaction. In the European Union, the biggest cause of youth unemployment is burdensome employment laws. Expensive-to-hire, impossible-to-fire equals huddles of unemployed youth on street corners. The entrepreneurial spirit in many countries has, hence, all but gone.
Many businesses on Alderney are seasonal with exceptionally difficult business peaks and troughs leading to choppy cash flow waters. They need labour resources to be flexible. If you look at the main proposers of employment law, they come from monopoly or States run establishments which have no need to worry about cash flow in other words the “forever someone else’s money” school of thought.
Ask a sandwich shop owner, a small building company or indeed any retail outlet that is ‘non-essential’ but nevertheless an important part of the business fabric of the Alderney story, the reply will be very different.
Victoria Street will be further devastated as business after business shuts shop. Youth unemployment will rocket leading to further depopulation. The only employer will be the care home business. The butcher, baker and candlestick maker will be replaced by Amazon delivery packs.
For existing business owners, especially those who have been diligently operational through thick and thin over the last thirty years, employment laws will effectively make their businesses worthless overnight. Why? The financial liabilities that they will then owe their employees will far outstrip the market value of the actual business even in cases where they own their premises. Many grand five-star hotel properties in the EU are now worthless for this very reason.
There is also the awkward elephant in the room about employee attitudes and standards. Whilst most people are exceptionally hard working and diligent sadly not every island employee can put their hand on their hearts and say they give it their best, all the time. Some business owners have complained about new recruits consistently turning up late (some even not at all), being sullen in the work place, drunkenness and some with an impossible air of self-entitlement that they can not effectively work with. In those cases, employers need the right of reply. It will, however, be that same small minority who will then start to clog up the tribunals which employment laws create.
Talking tribunals, quite apart from taking up unaffordable amounts of owner management time and legal expense, nearly 95% of the cases are judged by people who have no experience in running an actual business. Result — they always side with the underdog who often present with most tenuous of claims but there is an underlying feeling that the employer can “afford” it . Who are the real winners ? Lawyers and civil service jobsworth busybodies. Certainly not the employee, as the chances of securing other paid employment on an island this size are effectively zero. No one employs a previously litigious applicant. They might have to live forever off the payout and of course, aided by a lifetime dollops from tax payer fueled unemployment benefits. A fairly bleak result for all.
The other unwanted side effect of the employment laws will be felt by the local clubs , charities and island event managers. All organisations who rely on a consistent army of casual paid volunteer workers to run their bars, charity shops and even major island events. Every paid person technically will have to have a work contract (they could legally sue and win if they were not offered one) and that of course will come with full employee rights. Paid volunteers behind bars will become a thing of the past as every club or association will have to make onerous financial provisions to cover themselves against redundancy or employee litigation.
Alderney is not London nor is it a Dickensian ruthless industrial heartland.
It is a small island economy which relies on even fewer good hearted people to operate businesses to keep a minute 2000 population well served in its own peculiar quaint lifestyle. It is certainly not a billionaire maker. It is not a place for Sports Direct or Amazon practices and it does not need employment regulation to prevent vulnerable employees from sharp practice. There is enough social pressure on this small island for employers to do the right, honourable and respectful thing.
Employment laws on an island the size of Alderney are needless and benefit no one. States members whom ever so gently, and with breathtaking stealth, are hurling us into the abyss should immediately be told to drop the dogma for once in their sheltered lives. Perhaps even take a crash course in local business and by that I do not mean the warm, vague mysticism of working life in a monopolistic cash cow such as Alderney Electricty.
The only way for successful business on Alderney is not Essex, it is “laissez-faire “economics.
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