Employment in a time of fiscal austerity

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Safeguarding Employment Rights, Upholding Fairness, and Building Resilience in the Workplace

It was only a few short months ago that the employment climate was said to favour the employee.  At the time commentators (not this one) were telling anyone that would listen that it was a great time for employees to ask for a promotion or salary increase and that overall, it was an employees’ market.  My, how the tide has turned.

The Government’s fiscal austerity measures (that have resulted in the loss of thousands of public service roles) are now being adopted by employers across the spectrum. The Government’s ideology of increasing workplace efficiencies and productivity appears to have resonated and as a result, there is a lot of belt tightening going on and people employed in all areas, not just the public service, are becoming more conscious of job security.

While achieving better efficiencies and increased productivity are desirable outcomes, they also frequently intersect with employment practices, impacting everything from hiring and compensation to workplace conditions and labour rights.

As we are seeing play out, one of the primary concerns during periods of fiscal austerity is job security. Organisations may implement hiring freezes, layoffs, or downsizing initiatives to reduce costs, leading to heightened uncertainty for employees. In such times, employment laws play a crucial role in safeguarding workers’ rights and ensuring fair treatment.

Employers navigating these challenges need to consider more than cost-cutting measures and compliance with legal obligations. It’s particularly critical to keep the culture and underlying philosophies of the workplace front of mind when making decisions that are potentially adverse to the interests of staff. Failure to do so can lead to reactive decision making and outcomes that are not underpinned by proper process, which in turn damages reputations, and diminishes employee morale.

Employees, on the other hand, must be aware of their rights and entitlements under employment law. This includes protections against wrongful termination, discrimination, and unfair labour practices. Moreover, workers may need to adapt to shifting employment conditions, such as remote work arrangements or reduced hours, while still advocating for their rights and wellbeing.

Ultimately, successfully navigating employment in a time when budgets are tight requires collaboration, communication, and a commitment to upholding the principles of fairness and equity in the workplace. Stakeholders can and should work together to weather economic challenges, while safeguarding the dignity and wellbeing of the workforce, by staying abreast of the law, fostering a constructive dialogue between employers and employees, and advocating for their rights.

It’s important to remember the employment climate changes swiftly. Employers should be conscious that in a matter of months they are again going to be on the lookout for bright and engaged staff to employ and at that time it might seem shortsighted to have downsized the organisation only months earlier.  Employers should be creative when they consider ways to tighten their collective belts, and often ways can be found to achieve that end that do not result in the loss of employment.

Our thanks to David Grindle for writing this article. This article was first published in The Northern Advocate in May 2024.

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