Following the unexpected victory by the Conservatives in the UK general election on 7 May, the Government has announced its programme for the next session of Parliament. Amongst its proposals, the Government is proposing new laws regulating the ability to take lawful strike action.
The new proposals will require a 50% voter turnout threshold in strike ballots, while retaining the condition that a simple majority of those votes must be in favour of industrial action.
Additionally, the new proposals will require that 40% of those entitled to vote must vote in favour of industrial action in certain essential public services (health, education, fire and transport). The Bill will also introduce time limits on a mandate following a ballot for industrial action. The Conservatives proposed in their manifesto that employers would be allowed to use agency workers to cover for striking employees. No mention of this proposal was made in the Queen’s Speech, so we will have to wait for the Bill to be published before we see if this proposal becomes reality.
The other employment measure of significance contained in the Queen’s Speech is the Government’s proposal to cap termination payments to end, in the Government’s words, ‘….six figure payoffs for the best paid public sector workers’. No further detail has yet been provided.
The Queen’s Speech was largely silent on other employment law-related measures. However, other references in the Conservative manifesto may have an impact on employment law:
- There will be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU by the end of 2017. It is unclear as yet whether reform of EU-derived employment laws will form part of David Cameron’s re-negotiation of the UK’s terms of membership.
- The Conservatives promised to scrap the Human Rights Act and to curb the role of the European Court of Human Rights. The Queen’s Speech indicated that proposals would be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights. However, no indication was given as to when this might happen. Given the small Conservative majority and political opposition to these proposals, the abolition of the Human Rights Act may be some way off.
- The Conservatives promised to take further steps to eradicate the abuse of workers by banning exclusivity clauses in zero-hours employment contracts. Regulations implementing these changes came into force last week.
- The Conservatives indicated in their manifesto that the National Minimum Wage was on track to reach £8 per hour by the end of the decade. Whether any legislative measures will be taken to ensure this target is met is unclear.
A final point to bear in mind is that George Osborne has called a second budget for the year on 8 July. Further changes affecting employers may be proposed then.