Written by Gordon Dadds
The Queen’s Speech, which sets out the new government’s legislative programme for the upcoming parliamentary session was delivered on 27 May 2015 and contains a number of proposals to reform employment. Plans include reforms to trade union and strike regulation, harsher measures to deal with illegal migrant workers, and the promise to consult on proposals regarding a “British Bill of Rights”. We deal with the main points below.
A Trade Unions Bill will reform trade unions and protect essential public services from disruption caused by strikes.
Amongst other things, the reform would introduce the following significant changes:-
A minimum turnout of at least 50% to be required in strike ballots and if strike action is planned in essential public services (such as health, education, fire and transport) at least 40% of all eligible voters will have to vote in favour.
The Bill would prevent intimidation of non-striking workers during a strike and introduce time limits on a mandate following a ballot for industrial action.
While not included in the Cabinet Office briefing notes on the Bill, the Conservatives have previously indicated that they would be looking to lift the current ban on using agency workers to cover strikes.
European Union Referendum Bill
The Government will be publishing a European Referendum Bill to seek to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU and then hold and ‘‘in or out’’ referendum on membership by 2017.
Repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998
A key manifesto pledge by the Conservatives that was mentioned in the Queen’s speech was to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.
No further detail was given in the speech as to when legislation will be brought in and it appears that there is as yet no draft legislation on this. Rather, ministers will consult further on replacing the current legal framework.
The Government has promised an Immigration Bill that will make it harder to work illegally in the UK. This will create a new offence of illegal working enabling wages paid to illegal migrants to be seized as proceeds of crime. Among other measures, it will become illegal for employment agencies to only recruit from abroad without advertising those jobs in Britain and there will be a new enforcement agency with powers to take action against employers who exploit migrant workers.
Finance Bill/National Insurance Contributions Bill
The Government has promised legislation to ensure that those working 30 hours a week on the national minimum wage (NMW) will not pay any income tax. In addition, there is a commitment to raise the personal allowance to £12,500 and to ensure that future increases reflect the changes to the NMW. Although critics have pointed out that those on the NMW are unlikely to reach the minimum threshold for Income Tax already.
Legislation will also ensure that there are no rises in income tax rates, VAT rates and National Insurance contributions for individuals, employee and employers for the next five years.
A Childcare Bill will grant working parents up to 30 hours of free childcare for children aged three and four years old.
The Enterprise Bill will introduce measures to reduce regulation on small businesses to help create more jobs and a cap on exit payments made to public sector workers to end six-figure payoffs.
Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill
The government plans to create three million new apprenticeships over the next five years. The Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill will introduce statutory duties on ministers to report annually on progress towards achieving full employment; and meeting the target of three million new apprenticeships.
Another important change this week is the first commencement order under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 which has brought into force the ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts. These contractual clauses will now be unenforceable.
Employers are advised to remove the exclusivity clause from all new zero hours contracts and reminded that the exclusivity clauses in existing contracts can no longer be relied on.
However, this exclusivity ban is not supported with any enforcement measures. This means that zero hours workers currently have no way of taking action against employers who try to rely on exclusivity clause.
The Government has indicated that it intends to introduce ways to enforce protections for zero-hours workers.
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