Before the election, few people could have accurately predicted the result, so it was difficult to predict likely changes to UK employment law before now. However, in the wake of the Conservative majority and the Queen’s speech, we have a far better understanding of what employers should be prepared for over the next few years.
The Queen’s speech stated that “legislation will be brought forward to help achieve full employment” and the Cabinet Office briefing notes state that a new Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill will create two million new jobs and three million new apprenticeships over the course of this Parliament. However, we have little detail as to how this will be achieved, other than introducing statutory reporting duties for ministers.
The Government plans to cut red tape, “saving businesses at least £10 billion over this Parliament” (Cabinet Office briefing notes). It has not specifically set out what bureaucracy will be cut, but the Queen’s Speech anticipated that deregulation would assist small businesses in creating jobs. It may well be that the Government will seek to reduce some of the burden of employment related regulation, which it considers to be a barrier to small businesses employing people.
The most well defined Government employment policy is in respect of trade unions. The Government intends to “reform trade unions and to protect essential public services against strikes”. For the most part, these measures will essentially make it harder for unions to call a strike, by requiring a 50% voter turnout in all strike ballots. Furthermore, there will be an additional requirement for trade unions in certain “essential public services” – health, education, fire and transport- they will not only need a 50% turnout, but also ensure that a minimum of 40% of all employees entitled to vote on strike action vote in favour of the strike for it to be called. Additional measures will see regulation to address intimidation of strike-breakers, time limits for bringing industrial action and an ‘opt-in’ process for the political fund element of trade union subscriptions.
Employers can expect to see provision of childcare for eligible working parents of three and four year old children increased to 30 hours per week.
Zero Hours Contracts:
Exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts are now unenforceable (although this was in fact based on pre-election legislation that has only now been brought into effect). However, it has been noted that, in order to make this ban enforceable, anti-avoidance legislation will also be needed and the Government has published support and draft regulations to address avoidance, although a timetable for doing so is not clear.
There is of course the European Union referendum, to be held before the end of 2017. Depending on the outcome, this could have significant implications for all employment law in the UK, examples being rules relating to holidays, maternity and paternity, working time and TUPE (to name just a few).