The Government has unveiled a further raft of employment law changes in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, published earlier this week. As well as provisions on whistleblowing and zero-hours contracts, it contains a number of other employment measures announced earlier this month in the Queen's Speech.
The Government’s consultation on zero-hours contracts last year attracted over 36,000 responses. That is perhaps the reason why the Government has not published a full response and has dealt with it by a press release. As widely expected, a clause has been included in the Bill to make exclusivity clauses unenforceable against the worker. The provisions in the Bill itself are quite limited, though it does confer authority to impose additional requirements by secondary legislation.
The Bill is also a vehicle for carrying forward the Government’s whistleblowing proposals in its recently published response to consultation. As with zero-hours, the measures in the Bill are not as comprehensive as many had hoped. The Government has decided against further legislation to widen the scope of existing protection for whistleblowers, with the minor exception of extending its coverage to student nurses. Instead it plans to encourage culture change by publishing more comprehensive guidance. There is, however, a relatively modest provision in the Bill so that the statutory bodies responsible for receiving disclosures can be required to publish an annual report of the disclosures made to them.
Other employment measures in the Bill include:
- increasing the maximum financial penalty for failing to pay the national minimum wage to £20,000 per worker;
- imposing fines on employers who fail to pay tribunal awards or sums due following ACAS-conciliated settlements; and
- making public sector exit payments repayable in certain circumstances.