As part of the State opening of Parliament, the Queen today set out the government’s plans for legislation over the course of the new parliamentary session.  Disappointingly, however, the Queen’s Speech contained little new information on future employment law reforms, despite the Government’s stated aim of reducing burdens on businesses.

Dispute resolution

A new Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill will provide the legislative vehicle for introducing some of the tribunal and dispute resolution measures previously announced (see HR e-briefing 528), for example, extending the early conciliation role of Acas.

Executive pay

Despite opposition from some business quarters, the Government is to press ahead with proposals to increase shareholder power over pay, a sign that patience has run out with institutional investors taking control of this issue. How this will work in practice has not been elaborated upon today and will not be without practical difficulty. In principle, shareholders will be given new powers to hold company Boards to account on executive pay; their degree of influence as yet being undetermined but involving an ability to vote upon the directors’ remuneration report. Other, no less controversial proposals have received no specific mention today, such as the Government’s aims to improve pay transparency and diversity on the Board room. It remains to be seen if these will also be pursued in the forthcoming ERR Bill.

Family friendly

The Speech also marked progress with plans for flexible parental leave, with the announcement of the Children and Families Bill. This legislation will “give parents access to flexible parental leave; so that where they want to, mothers and fathers can share caring responsibilities in a way which best fits their needs”.

While this proposal is not new, it is a bold step and marks a move away from the current highly gender-based and inflexible approach to parental leave and, in particular, should give fathers much greater scope for taking extended leave after their baby’s birth.  Under current regulations, fathers can take two weeks leave around the time of birth; they can then take a further 26 weeks’ leave but only when the baby is 20 weeks old, and even then, only if the mother has returned to work.  Under the new legislation we can expect parents to have much greater choice over how and when they take parental leave. For further details of the sort of changes we can expect, click here to see our eBriefing from last year.  

However, the changes will not be universally welcomed. The current paternity leave regulations only started to take effect last year and few employers will look forward to yet another change in this complicated area of employment law and practice.

Interestingly, neither the Queen’s speech nor the briefing paper that accompanied it mentioned the proposal to extend the right to ask for flexible work arrangements. It will be interesting to see if this proposal, which formed part of the coalition agreement, makes it into the Children and Families Bill.