We set out the key takeaways for employers from this year's Queen's speech
There were relatively few items mentioned in this year's Queen's speech of specific relevance to employers. We consider the key takeaways and impacts of this below.
No Employment Bill
In the Queen's Speech delivered in December 2019 the then recently elected Conservative government led by Boris Johnson announced it would introduce a new Employment Bill designed to bring together a number of changes to UK employment law. Among the proposed issues the Bill was expected to address were:
- The creation of a single enforcement body designed to make enforcing employment rights easier (as opposed to the current multi-departmental approach via HMRC, the HSE, Local Authorities, etc.)
- The right to request more predictable working hours
- Making flexible working the default
- Giving unpaid carers the right to a week's leave
- Introducing leave for neonatal care
- Extending redundancy protection for employees absent due to maternity or pregnancy
- To ensure tips go to workers in full
A lot has happened since the Employment Bill. In March 2021 the Government confirmed the Bill would not be brought forward during that Parliament and that it would be introduced 'when Parliamentary time allows'. Into 2022, there was an expectation that, with the country now moving past the coronavirus pandemic, the Employment Bill may make a reappearance in this year's Queen Speech, but it has not. It is therefore not clear if the Bill is on legislative agenda for this Parliament.
New legislation for seafarers
In the wake of the actions by P&O ferries, which saw the company make mass redundancies and bring in replacements on much cheaper hourly rates, the Government has announced plans to introduce the Harbours (Seafarers' Remuneration) Bill.
The Bill is designed to protect seafarers working on vessels which regularly visit UK ports by giving the port authorities the right to refuse access to ferry services if the staff of that vessel are not paid the equivalent of the National Minimum Wage. However, the British Ports Association has already raised questions about the effectiveness of these proposals which would make port authorities responsible for enforcing the NMW.
New initiatives to encourage employee training
The Government has stated its aim to encourage the private sector to invest in employee training schemes, including apprenticeships. The plan is to do this by looking at the current tax system, including the apprenticeship levy, and consider whether there is sufficient incentive for employers to invest in high-quality employee training.
It is not yet clear why the Government have once again omitted the Employment Bill from this year's Queen's Speech. It is worth noting that some of the proposals for the Employment Bill originate in the Good Work Plan, which was published in 2018 and was designed to address key concerns and gaps in the law which had arisen as more and more people work in the 'gig economy'.
A central recommendation by the Good Work Plan was the need to create a single enforcement body in place of the wide array of government departments and agencies who each regulated specific parts of the employment market. It may be that the Government is struggling with the complexity of such a task, which would pull together the enforcement powers and duties of, among others, HMRC, the Health and Safety Executive and the Pensions Regulator and is working on how to do this before announcing plans to proceed.
However, many of the other proposals on extending rights and protections would appear more straightforward to legislate and yet they are not mentioned at all. It is also worth considering whether the Government thinks there continues to be a need to legislate on workplace flexibility as employers and their staff have put much of this into practice during the pandemic.
Although not mentioned in the Queen's Speech 2022, it appears that the main employment law development to look out for in 2022 remains the anticipated publishing of the Statutory Code of Practice on dismissal and re-engagement, designed to 'prevent unscrupulous employers using fire and rehire tactics'.
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