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There has recently been a 'cabinet reshuffle' in the UK. A number of ministers have been removed from their posts and have seen a change in their status and salaries. Are these changes covered by the fair dismissal criteria of UK empoyment law, or would they (in theory) have a case for unfair dismissal?

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    Not an answer as I don't know enough to give one, but according to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority's answer to a freedom of information request: Members of Parliament are not employed in any legal sense of the word.
    – user35069
    Sep 17, 2021 at 13:53
  • @RockApe Good find, however note that the question is about government ministers rather than MPs generally. I believe that changes the outcome and have posted an answer to that effect.
    – JBentley
    Sep 18, 2021 at 4:18

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TLDR: Yes in law, but they probably can't establish that the dismissal is unfair.

Government ministers as servants of the Crown

It has been suggested elsewhere that MPs are not employees. Be that as it may, the question asks about government ministers who, in addition to being MPs, are also servants of the Crown by virtue of their office in the executive. IPSA, which provides the information linked to in the other answer/comment, is not responsible for the additional salary paid to government ministers over and above their MP's salary.

Although not relevant to employment rights, to support the proposition that a government minster is a servant of the Crown see section 12(1) of the Official Secrets Act 1989:

In this Act “Crown servant” means (a) a Minister of the Crown; [...]

Note also that technically a person could be a government minister without being an MP at all. It could be an interesting question for politics stackexchange whether or not this has ever happened.

Crown servants as "employees"

Quoting from the first Wikipedia article linked to above:

Crown servants serve "at the pleasure of the Crown", and do not therefore benefit from the protections normally available to employees by law.[3] However, the majority of these protections are applied to them by the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

See also 'Civil servants: Employment rights':

For historical reasons, servants of the Crown are treated in common law as a separate category of employee and are not regarded as having a “contract of service” in the normal sense. The main difference is that theoretically a Crown servant is dismissible at any time at the will of the Crown. However, various aspects of employment legislation have been extended to “Crown employment,” particularly in the areas of employment protection, trade union rights and discrimination.

Unfair dismissal

The rules on unfair dismissal are found in the Employment Rights Act 1996 (the "ERA 1996"). Section 94(1) (which is in Part X) provides:

An employee has the right not to be unfairly dismissed by his employer.

Section 191 provides that this right is applicable to Crown employees:

(1) Subject to sections 192 and 193, the provisions of this Act to which this section applies have effect in relation to Crown employment and persons in Crown employment as they have effect in relation to other employment and other employees or workers.

(2) This section applies to [...] (e) Part X, apart from section 101

So, it would appear that government minsters do have unfair dismissal rights.

Similar provisions can be found in in Section 273(3) and 273(1) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation Act 1992). Chaper II of Part IV of that Act makes various provisions for unfair dismissal in the context of trade union law, however those are specifically excluded for persons in Crown employment by way of section 273(2). So a minister's unfair dismissal rights are not as wide as a regular employee.

Crown employees also benefit from various other employment rights by way of similar provisions e.g. in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 but those are not directly relevant to the question.

Can dismissals of government minsters actually be unfair?

Section 98 of the ERA 1996 provides:

(1) In determining for the purposes of this Part whether the dismissal of an employee is fair or unfair, it is for the employer to show [...] (b) that [the reason for dismissal] is either a reason falling within subsection (2) or some other substantial reason of a kind such as to justify the dismissal of an employee holding the position which the employee held.

(2) A reason falls within this subsection if it [...] is that the employee could not continue to work in the position which he held without contravention (either on his part or on that of his employer) of a duty or restriction imposed by or under an enactment.

Quoting Wikipedia:

Traditionally, Orders in Council are used as a way for the Prime Minister to make political appointments

Section 1 of the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975 provides:

Her Majesty may by Order in Council—

(a)provide for the transfer to any Minister of the Crown of any functions previously exercisable by another Minister of the Crown;

[...]

(c)direct that functions of any Minister of the Crown shall be exercisable concurrently with another Minister of the Crown, or shall cease to be so exercisable.

So, given that the Prime Minister has a legislative power to dismiss minsters or strip them of their functions, it seems unlikely that such a dismissal would meet the criteria of unfairness. Either because they "could not continue to work [as a minister] without contravention [on his part] of [a restriction] imposed [under] an enactment" pursuant to section 98(2) of the ERA 1996, or under the generality of a "substantial reason of a kind such as to justify the dismissal" pursuant to section 98(1).

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    "a person could be a government minister without being an MP at all": you might want to re-word that, as there always ministers in the House of Lords. Sep 18, 2021 at 15:23
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    It might be worth adding that ministers are not normally dismissed; they are asked to resign. I'd be curious to know if this makes any practical difference. Sep 18, 2021 at 15:25
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    @SteveMelnikoff thanks, when I get a bit of time I'll edit in both of those points and see if I can work in something about constructive dismissal for your second point.
    – JBentley
    Sep 18, 2021 at 16:48
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No

The reason is very simple: MPs are not employees.

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    Being an MP and being a minister are two different things, and not all ministers are MPs (because some of them sit in the House of Lords). This answer may be still be correct, but you would need to show that the rules that apply to the "employment" of MPs also applies to ministers. Sep 18, 2021 at 15:27

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