The Queen's Speech

The Queen's Speech on 6 November (and supporting documents) contained the following measures relevant to employment law:

  • confirmation that the statutory dismissal and grievance procedures will be repealed and replaced with "a new non-regulatory system" to "encourage early/informal resolution", under the Employment Bill (see here);. Further details on the Government's response to the Gibbons Review of these procedures is expected by the end of the year; the earliest date for repeal is thought to be April 2009;
  • the Employment Bill will also strengthen the enforcement framework for the national minimum wage and employment agency standards, and amend trade union membership law to allow unions to expel members for being members of a political party;
  • flexible working rights, currently available to parents of children aged under 6, will be extended to parents of older children. An independent review into this extension has been commissioned and recommendations for the cut-off age are expected in Spring 2008. The options being considered seem to include extending the right to parents of children aged under 9, 12 or 17 (see here);
  • the Pensions Bill will impose a mandatory minimum employer contribution and automatic enrolment of employees unless they opt out;
  • the National Insurance Contributions Bill will bring the NIC upper earnings level into line with the higher rate income tax threshold;
  • legislation will reform apprenticeships, following a review expected to be completed in January 2008.

The Single Equality Bill, amalgamating the various discrimination laws, was not included. The Government hopes to include it in the November 2008 Queen's Speech and publish at least some draft clauses in advance (see here).

New penalties for employing illegal workers

A new system of civil penalties for hiring illegal workers will take effect in February 2008. There will be a maximum fine of £10,000 per illegal worker for negligent hiring and an unlimited fine or prison sentence for knowingly hiring illegal workers. The Home Office press release is available here.

Over the next year the Government will also introduce compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals and a points-based system for migrants (tier 1 covering highly-skilled migrant workers is due to be implemented by March 2008). Under this system employers will need a license in order to sponsor overseas nationals' visa applications. Businesses will be able to apply for a license from early 2008. The Government has recently published a statement of intent setting out how a would-be sponsor can gain a licence and what duties they will be asked to perform, available here.

A draft Code of Practice on the civil penalties has also been published, describing how penalty levels will be set, and how employers may establish the statutory excuse to avoid liability for negligent hiring, available here.

The Government has also announced that the restrictions it placed on the free movement of workers from Bulgaria and Romania into the UK will remain in place until at least the end of 2008.

Proposed amendment to employment agency/business regulations

Draft Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2007 have been published, available here. Intended to take effect on 1 April 2008, these draft Regulations make minor changes to the existing regime governing employment businesses and agencies, principally giving work-seekers who have taken up additional services the right to withdraw from them on notice without penalty and simplifying the information to be given to a hirer and work-seeker for assignments of 5 days or less.

No legislative changes for workplace representatives

Following public consultation, the Government has decided in favour of a variety of non-regulatory measures rather than amend the legislation governing the activities of workplace representatives. It has rejected calls for guaranteed minimum periods of paid leave and to extend statutory rights to union equality and environmental representatives. The measures include developing new training tools and the revision of the Acas Code of Practice on Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities. The Government's response is available here.

SSP reform recommendations

The Government has published the report of its Working Group considering possible reform of the statutory sick pay system, available here. Recommendations include measures to reduce the administrative burden on employers, removing the provision linking spells of sickness between different employers, and changes to medical certification to provide more information on an employee's capacity for work, rather than reasons to refrain from work.

No new EU employment laws proposed following public consultation

The European Commission has published the results of the public consultation on its Green Paper 'Modernising labour law to meet the challenges of the 21st century'. It is not proposing any new legislative initiatives as a result. Many of the responses underlined the need to focus on implementing the existing legislation in all member states and on reaching agreement on outstanding issues such as the proposals on Temporary Agency Workers and the Working Time Directive review. See here for details. The Portuguese Presidency has put forward new compromise texts on both these proposals for discussion at an EU Employment Council meeting on 5-6 December.