The Queen's Speech on 21 June 2017 set out the government's programme for the next two years and was inevitably dominated by Brexit-related legislation. The principal bill will be the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, subsequently published on 13 July 2017, which will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and bring about Britain's exit from the European Union. A series of factsheets has been published to accompany the Bill, including one setting out the Government's previously announced position on protecting workers' rights (see here). Other measures included:
- an Immigration Bill, to end free movement for EU nationals in the UK; a white paper is expected later this year;
a Data Protection Bill to replace the Data Protection Act 1998 and implement the General Data Protection Regulation, in order to meet our obligations while still in the EU and help "to put the UK in the best position to maintain our ability to share data with other EU member states and internationally after we leave the EU." Hopefully publication of a draft of the Data Protection Bill will be a priority, given that employers should already be preparing for implementation of the GDPR which comes into force in May 2018;
an intention to make further progress in tackling the gender pay gap and reducing discrimination on all grounds; this was under the heading "non-legislative measures", so it seems that the Conservative manifesto proposal to legislate to extend mandatory pay gap reporting to cover race and to provide more detailed breakdowns on gender pay (perhaps by age and job-grade) may have been shelved;
an intention to "work towards" a new Mental Health Act; this too was under the "non-legislative measures" heading and there was no specific reference to the Conservative manifesto proposal to prohibit discrimination against those suffering from mental health conditions that are "episodic and fluctuating" and require mental health risk assessments;
a commitment to increase the national living wage to 60% of median earnings by 2020;
a statement that the government looked forward to the publication of the Taylor Review. The Review was published on 11 July 2017 and recommends a number of changes to 'worker' status, as well as to numerous other rights including agency workers' rights, zero hours contracts, continuity of service, written statements of terms, holiday pay, sick pay and flexible work requests (amongst others). The Review is discussed in more detail in our blog post here. The Prime Minister stated that the government would respond in detail to its recommendations later in the year, and that there should be broad public debate and cross-party engagement. Given the challenges posed by Brexit and operating as a minority government, it is likely that nothing substantive will happen quickly.
A number of proposals in the Conservative Party manifesto were missing, suggesting at the least that these may no longer be a priority, including:
- a new right to child bereavement leave, although a Private Member's Bill to this effect was introduced on 19 July 2017 and is supported by the Government;
- initiatives to curb boardroom pay (publication of pay ratios, annual shareholder votes on executive remuneration) and strengthen employee representation on boards;
- extension of the right to request unpaid time off for training to all employees;
- a new right to take unpaid time off to care for sick relatives.
The Government has also announced that its consultation on caste discrimination has been extended until 18 September 2017.
In relation to Brexit, the UK Government has published its proposed offer on EU citizens' rights at the end of June, summarised in our blog here. The UK is proposing to introduce a new 'settled status' in UK law for EU citizens who have been resident in the UK before a specified date (not yet defined but to be no earlier than 29 March 2017 and no later than the date of the UK's withdrawal). This status will only be available to those with five years' residence, but individuals resident in the UK before the specified date but without five years will be able to apply for a temporary residence permit to cover the period until they have accumulated five years. There are of course 'areas of divergence' from the EU position; the next round of talks is due at the end of August.
The position for EU citizens arriving in the UK after the specified date remains unclear. On 27 July, the Government commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to report on the impacts on the UK labour market of Brexit and how the UK's immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy. A call for evidence will be issued in the next few weeks, and the full report is expected in September 2018. The new rules will only be formulated after the Government has received the Committee's advice. The Home Office's commissioning letter does confirm its intention for there to be an 'implementation period' post March 2019; EU citizens arriving after a cut-off date would be allowed to remain during this implementation period (although they will have to register) but would then need to meet the new immigration regime requirements to remain here thereafter.