The Queen’s Speech on 27 March included a number of employment law reforms:

  • Unionised employers will welcome proposals to require a higher turnout of union members in ballots for industrial action. Ballots will have to achieve a 50% turnout (with a simple majority of votes cast). In the health, education, fire and transport services, 40% of the union’s eligible membership will have to vote in favour. The Trade Unions Bill will also impose a time limit on the period for which a ballot will remain a valid mandate for industrial action, introduce measures to prevent intimidation of non-striking workers, and require a transparent opt-in for union members wishing to pay the political fund element of union subscriptions. The Bill may also enable employers to use agency workers to provide cover for absent strikers, as mentioned in the Conservative election manifesto, although this was not referred to in the Queen’s Speech.
  • An Immigration Bill will create an offence of illegal working, allowing for illegal workers’ wages to be seized. It will require employment agencies not to recruit solely from abroad without advertising the jobs in Britain and in English, and will create a new immigration enforcement agency to tackle the worst cases of exploitation by employers. The Government will consult on a proposed new visa levy on businesses that use foreign labour, as a means of funding apprenticeship schemes.
  • The Enterprise Bill is intended to cut red tape for businesses, particularly small businesses. The new Business Secretary Sajid Javid has stated that the Government will look at reducing the burden from independent regulators as well as from legislative red tape (see here). However, Mr Javid has ruled out having a fresh look at the Beecroft proposals to make it easier for firms to sack staff using “no fault” dismissals.
  • The EU Referendum Bill proposes an in-out vote before the end of 2017. Our HSF Briefing on the possible legal implications of Brexit is available here.
  • The Queen’s Speech confirmed Government plans to consult on replacing the Human Rights Act 1998 with a British Bill of Rights. The Convention has influenced employment law particularly in the areas of discrimination, freedom of expression, privacy, disciplinary proceedings in regulated sectors, and trade union law. Our HSF ebulletin considering the obstacles and likely impact of this proposal is available here.

Other initiatives include:

  • Mandatory equal pay reporting for larger employers – the Government is already committed to implement regulations by March 2016 (see here).
  • The Conservative manifesto pledged the introduction of 3 paid days off to do voluntary work for employees of public sector employers and companies with 250 or more employees.
  • The Minister of Justice has stated in Parliament that the Government is currently “considering the options for a review” of employment tribunal fees, and that a further announcement will be made in due course. The Court of Appeal is due to hear UNISON’s judicial review appeal in relation to the introduction of fees in mid-June.