On 27 May 2015, the Queen delivered her 62nd Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament. The event was arguably more notable for the absence of the traditional quip by Labour veteran MP Dennis Skinner (the result of fighting Scottish Nationalists for his traditional seat on the front bench, Skinner explained), than the fact that it was the first Queen’s Speech prepared by a majority Conservative Government since 1992.
As employment solicitors and HR practitioners anticipated, the Queen’s Speech contained many employment-related bills. As these bills are only in the initial stages of the parliamentary process the devil will be in the detail, but here is a brief summary of the main pieces of legislation that are forecast to have significant implications for employers and employees alike:
British Bill of Rights:
It was widely publicised in the run up to the General Election that the Conservatives plan to scrap the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. However, since gaining power the Conservatives have quickly realised this will not be immediately possible so are instead entering into a period of consultation. However, the Queen did announce that a draft bill would be produced within the next 12 months;
Finance Bill/National Insurance Contributions Bill:
These bills will introduce legislation to prevent the Government increasing income tax rates, VAT or National Insurance for five years – the term of this Parliament. The Government also wants to ensure that increases in the personal income tax allowance are linked to changes in the National Minimum Wage and that people working 30 hours per week on National Minimum Wage will be taken out of income tax entirely;
Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill:
This bill will impose duties on Ministers to make annual reports on their efforts to achieve full employment and meet the Government’s target of 3 million new apprenticeships;
European Union Referendum Bill:
Another cornerstone of Conservative policy, this bill sets the wheels in motion for the long-promised in/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership, to be held before the end of 2107. Obviously, if Britain does decide to leave the EU it is going to have far‑reaching implications for employers as much current employment legislation derives from EU Directives;
Trade Union Bill:
This bill is designed to protect essential services from strike action by making it harder for public sector workers to take industrial action. Measures in the bill include increased minimum thresholds for voters in union ballots, prevention of intimidation of non‑striking workers, and imposing time limits on the validity of mandates following ballots for industrial action;
This bill will be monitored closely by working parents as the Government is promising to extend free childcare to 30 hours per week, subject to eligibility;
This bill is designed to stop extremist activity in the UK. The bill provides for the introduction of employment checks which will allow employers to find out whether an employee is an extremist and so bar them from working with children;
As well as helping small businesses to create more jobs by reducing red tape, this bill will cap redundancy payments to public sector workers with a view to ending the substantial pay-offs which sometimes follow termination of employment; and
It is proposed that as well as creating an offence of ‘illegal working’, anybody caught working illegally in the UK may have their wages seized as being the proceeds of crime. A new enforcement agency will be created to safeguard migrant workers. It will be illegal for employment agencies to recruit from abroad without also advertising jobs in the UK.
Whilst some regard the Government’s proposals are admirable, many observers are questioning where the money will come from to fund them. Given that the Conservatives enjoy only a slender majority in the Commons it remains to be seen whether much of the proposed legislation will ever make it as far as the statute book.
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