A back-of-the-envelope calculation on unfair dismissals
The comments thread below arising from my piece on unfair dismissals having gone badly meta, let me extract one useful point and do a quick calculation. Suppose we accept the estimate by commenter x-anon that employers typically choose to pay out three months’ wages when dismissing someone for cause (that is, for reasons other than redundancy), rather than face the possibility of unfair dismissal action.
I’m going to guess that an upper bound for the proportion of employees annually dismissed for cause in small businesses is 4 per cent (for large businesses it would be smaller and for the public sector smaller again). Then that implies that the effect of the 3-months payout policy is to raise the average wage bill by 1 per cent. Unless all dismissals for cause are justified, there will be an offsetting effect, since rational employees who regard unjustified dismissal as a possibility will want a higher wage to offset the implied reduction in expected payments. Assuming justified and unjustified dismissals are equally common (here it’s the viewpoint of the average employee that matter), and disregarding risk aversion, the net saving falls to 0.5 per cent. Given a typical labour demand elasticity of 0.5 the net increase in employment demand is about 0.25 per cent for small business (the relevant distinction is those with less than 100 employees). If, say, 40 per cent of workers are employed in firms affected by the changes, the net increase in employment is 10 000 jobs. This is a once-off increase, not an increase in the annual rate of job creation.
Of course, this is a rather simplistic calculation, not taking into account effects on employer confidence, worker morale and so forth, but it gives a feel for the order of magnitude involved. A policy initiative that might generate 10 000 new jobs is worth looking at, but it ought to be put in perspective. Telstra alone has cut many more jobs than that in the past decade, which suggests that a focus on making it easier to get rid of people is probably getting the wrong end of the stick.
fn1. Godwin’s law invoked after only 30 comments.