The Queen's Speech was delivered on 27 May 2015. The speech and supporting notes set out the three key elements of the Prime Minister’s vision for a ‘One Nation Government’, namely: security for working people, social justice; and bringing every part of the United Kingdom together. The first and final elements of this vision have wide ranging potential impacts on employment law.
In particular, the speech outlines plans for changes relating to tax allowances and the national minimum wage, trade unions, provision of free childcare, migrant workers, apprenticeships and a British Bill of Rights. It is also of note that employment tribunal fees and the Conservative Party’s previous plans to introduce compensated no fault dismissals do not appear in the speech, suggesting that these issues are not likely to be addressed in the near future.
Security for working people
The Government plans to help all working people have security, whether this is job security or a decreased risk of strikes on essential public services. The legislation proposed to achieve this is as follows:
Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill
The Government states that the most crucial part of security is having a job. It plans to create three million new apprenticeships over the next five years and to create enough jobs for everyone who wants one, leading to full employment. The Bill will introduce statutory duties on ministers to report annually on progress towards achieving these aims.
The Enterprise Bill will introduce measures to reduce regulation on small businesses to help create more jobs and a cap on redundancy payments for public sector workers.
Finance Bill/National Insurance Contributions Bill
The Government will ensure that future increases to the personal income tax allowance are linked to changes to the national minimum wage (NMW). This will ensure that people working 30 hours a week on the NMW will not pay income tax.
There will also be legislation for a “five year tax lock”, ensuring that there are no rises in income tax rates, VAT rates or National Insurance contributions for individuals, employees or employers for the next five years.
The Government states that its Childcare Bill will grant working parents 30 hours' free childcare a week for three and four year old children for 38 weeks a year. There will also be changes to the tax relief offered for childcare.
Trade Unions Bill
The Government plans to reform trade unions and protect essential public services from disruption caused by strikes by introducing these provisions:
- In union ballots, a minimum of 50% of voters to turn out to vote and a simple majority of votes in favour required
- For industrial action in the health, education, fire and transport services, the requirement that 40% of those entitled to vote, vote in favour of striking (in addition to the minimum 50% voting turnout threshold)
- Prevention of intimidation of non-striking workers during a strike
- Time limits on mandates following a ballot for industrial action
- Transparent opt-in process for the political fund element of trade union subscriptions.
There is no mention of the abolition of the ban on employers using agency workers to cover striking employees or a tightening of the rules around "facility time" for union representatives, both of which were in the Conservative election manifesto.
Bringing every part of the UK together
The Government also plans to bring the UK together and give the country greater control over its affairs, through the following legislation:
British Bill of Rights
At the Conservative Party Conference in October 2014, the Conservatives announced proposals to make the European Court of Human Rights an advisory body only and to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, replacing it with a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.
The Queen's Speech refers to the Government bringing forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights. No further detail is given as to when legislation will be brought in to implement this and it is expected that a consultation will take place first.
The Government's intention is that such a bill would reform and modernise the legal framework of human rights, while protecting existing rights and protecting against their misuse. The reference to proposals rather than legislation in the speech appears to be a step back from its original position before the election, as the Bill of Rights was a key manifesto pledge.
European Union Referendum Bill
As noted above, the Conservative Party has previously proposed treating the European Court of Human Rights as an advisory only body. This is part of the Government’s plan to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the European Union (EU) and pursue reform of the EU for the benefit of all member states. The EU Referendum Bill will provide for an in-out referendum on membership of the EU before the end of 2017.
The Government plans to reduce demand for skilled migrant workers and crack down on the exploitation of low-skilled workers using the following mechanisms:
Illegal working will be made a criminal offence, allowing wages paid to illegal migrants to be seized as proceeds of crime. Creating a new enforcement agency with powers to take action against employers who exploit migrant workers. It will be illegal for employers to recruit from abroad without advertising in Britain first.
As part of the Government's commitment to defeat extremism, this Bill will introduce a number of measures including the ability for employers to check whether an individual is an extremist and bar them from working with children.
The Queen’s Speech 2015 covers a wide range of areas, however, it is also worth noting the matters that do not appear. For example, there is no mention of the Conservative Party’s previous plan to introduce compensated no fault dismissals. There is also no mention of employment tribunal fees, suggesting that fees are here to stay, at least for the time being.
If the Government succeeds in breaking "the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights", the impact on employment law could be wide ranging. At the present time, the speech only gives a bare outline of these plans; further detail will be announced in due course.