Despite the inclusion of 38 new legislative Bills in the Queen’s Speech last week, the Employment Bill was notably absent yet again. Since it was first announced in 2019, employers have been waiting for further details of the Employment Bill and the employment law developments it was expected to implement.
The changes that had been promised “when Parliamentary time allows” included:
The right to request flexible working from day one of employment;
The extension of redundancy protection for pregnant women and new parents;
Neonatal leave and pay for parents of premature babies;
Unpaid carers’ leave;
The right for workers to request a more predictable contract; and
A single enforcement body for the protection of vulnerable workers’ rights.
However, despite various consultations and government announcements in relation to these proposals, these appear to have been pushed back down the legislative agenda for the time being.
A further proposal to ensure that workers receive all tips and gratuities from employers without deduction has been dropped entirely, according to recent reports.
So what employment law developments are likely to materialise over the coming months?
New statutory Code on “fire and rehire” practices
The outcry surrounding the recent decision by P&O ferries to make 800 employees redundant without any prior notice or consultation and replace them with lower paid agency workers has prompted the Government to take action.
The Queen’s Speech contained a new Harbours (Seafarer’s Remuneration) Bill which will enable UK ports to refuse entry to ferry services that do not pay the equivalent of the UK national minimum wage. However, the Bill will stop short of amending the UK’s national minimum wage legislation directly.
In addition, the Government announced that it will publish a new statutory Code of Practice on “fire and rehire” practices, which will detail how businesses must hold fair, transparent and meaningful consultations on proposed changes to employment terms.
The announcement stated that the Government considers the use of “fire and rehire” as a negotiating tactic to be “completely unacceptable”. Therefore, the Code will empower employment tribunals to uplift an employee’s compensation by up to 25% if an employer unreasonably fails to comply with the Code’s requirements. Again, the Code is to be published “when Parliamentary time allows” and a consultation period will follow, so the timescale for its introduction is far from certain.
Extension of ban on exclusivity clauses
Last week, the Government also announced that it will extend the existing ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts, which it estimates will impact 1.5 million people. The ban extension will apply to all contracts where a worker has guaranteed earnings equal to or lower than the lower earnings limit (LEL), which is currently £123 per week.
In practical terms, this means that such workers will be able to take on work for other employers and any contractual provision that prevents them from doing so will be unenforceable. There will also be protection from dismissal or detrimental treatment for such workers in support of the extended ban.
Although there are minor legislative developments still on the cards this year, employment law does not appear to be a current priority for the Government. Whether or not the promise of legislative progress will materialise in the coming years remain to be seen.
However, the Queen’s Speech did contain other Bills of note to employers, including a proposed Bill of Rights and a Data Reform Bill. The content of both Bills is awaited, but one of the stated data protection aims is to create a trusted UK framework that reduces burdens on businesses. Further details are set out in the recent article by head of our data protection group Nigel Miller.
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