The Queen's Speech was delivered on 27 May 2015 and sets out the newly elected government's plans to make a number of changes that will impact on employment law. These include changes to tax allowances and the national minimum wage, trade unions, provision of free childcare, migrant workers, apprenticeships and proposals regarding a British Bill of Rights. We summarise the key points of interest for employers.
Trade Unions Bill
The main elements of the Bill are a 50% voting threshold for union strike ballot turnouts (with the requirement for a simple majority of votes in favour), and an additional requirement in essential public services (health, education, fire and transport) that 40% of those entitled to vote must back the strike action. Time limits will also be introduced on a mandate following a ballot for industrial action and measures will be taken to reduce intimidation of non-striking workers.
In a bid to reduce demand for skilled migrant workers and crack down on the exploitation of low-skilled workers, a new Immigration Bill will introduce provisions to:
- make illegal working a criminal offence, allowing wages paid to illegal migrants to be seized as proceeds of crime. The offence is designed to catch workers who have either entered the UKillegally or overstayed their leave. Employers will be informed when a worker's visa has ended;
- create a new enforcement agency with powers to take action against employers who exploit migrant workers; and
- make it illegal for employment agencies to only recruit from abroad without advertising those jobs in Britain and a consultation on funding apprenticeship schemes by implementing a new visa levy on businesses that use foreign labour.
This Bill will seek to cut red tape for British businesses by at least £10bn over the next five years, with measures to support small businesses and job creation. It will also include a cap on redundancy pay to public sector workers, proposed to be below a six-figure sum but subject to consultation. The Bill also proposes to create a new Small Business Conciliation Service, to help settle disputes between small and large businesses, especially over late payment practices.
British Bill of Rights
The Queen's Speech refers to the government bringing forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, but no further detail is given in the speech as to when legislation will be brought in to implement this. As this was a key manifesto pledge by the Conservatives, the reference in the speech to "proposals" rather than legislation appears to be a step back from the position taken before the election.
EU Referendum Bill
This will pave the way for an in / out referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. David Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the 28-member bloc and put it to a public vote by 2017 at the latest. There is speculation it could be held as early as autumn 2016.
National Insurance Contributions and Finance Bill
The government will ensure that there are no rises in income tax rates, VAT or national insurance before 2020 and that "no one working 30 hours on the minimum wage pays any income tax at all". As a result, the personal allowance will be increased to £12,500, with an on-going commitment to increase the income tax personal allowance to reflect further changes in the national minimum wage.
Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill
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 over the next five years.
The government has said that it wants to help working people by increasing the provision of free childcare for "eligible working parents" of children aged three and four years old to 30 hours a week (for 38 weeks of the year). Currently, 15 hours of free child care is available to all. This free child care is in addition to the existing childcare voucher scheme and new tax-free childcare scheme due to be introduced in Autumn 2015.
The Bill is designed to “stop extremists promoting views and behaviour that undermine British values” and includes the introduction of employment checks, enabling companies to find out whether an individual is an extremist so that he or she can be barred from working with children.
The Queen's Speech reflected the pledges that the Conservatives had made in the run-up to the general election (see here). When questioned, David Cameron said that his legislative programme would mean: “wherever you live, you can have the chance of a good education, a decent job, a home of your own and the peace of mind that comes from being able to raise a family and enjoy a secure retirement”.