The Employment Bill was first announced by the UK Government in the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019, and was designed to “build on existing employment law with measures that protect those in low-paid work and the gig economy”, further to the Taylor Report.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the Employment Bill disappearing from the legislative programme for the past two years. It had been envisaged that it would now re-emerge as part of this year’s plans, particularly in the wake of employment law hitting the headlines with the P&O ferries controversy, but there have been rumours over the past few weeks that it would not be progressing.
The Queen’s Speech, delivered yesterday by Prince Charles in place of an absent Queen Elizabeth II, did, in fact, transpire to be silent on the matter of the Employment Bill, which therefore remains in legislative suspense.
By way of recap, the provisions we were expecting to see laid out in an Employment Bill were:
A single enforcement body
The introduction of a single enforcement body to offer greater protection for workers. This body is proposed to have a wide remit, including the imposition of sanctions on non-compliant employers.
Giving tips in full
Following a consultation in 2021, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) confirmed that measures to ensure workers are given tips, gratuities and service charges ‘in full, without deductions and in a fair manner’ would be included as part of the Employment Bill. These provisions, when they are eventually introduced, will be complemented by a Code of Practice on Tipping for employers.
Also proposed was a right for employees and workers who work variable hours (including those on zero-hours contracts and agency workers) to request a more predictable, stable contract after 26 weeks’ continuous service. They would be entitled to request, in the same way as a flexible working request, minimum guaranteed hours and fixed days of work.
Redundancy protection for pregnant workers
It was suggested that further protections are afforded to pregnant workers in addition to those they currently enjoy. It is anticipated that it will not be possible to make a pregnant worker redundant from the start of pregnancy until six months after returning to work (unless the employer is closing the business or ceasing to work in that area).
A new entitlement to neonatal leave and pay for parents of babies who require neonatal care or are admitted into hospital within 28 days of being born. It is proposed that there will be 12 weeks of paid time off for parents of children who have spent a least a week in neonatal care, rather than relying on their existing statutory leave. It is anticipated that the right to leave will be available from day one of employment and pay will be available to workers with 26 weeks’ continuous service.
Unpaid carer leave
A new right afforded only to employees. Those employees who are unpaid carers will be entitled to one week (five working days’) unpaid leave for caring and connected purposes.
Right to request flexible working from day one
An aim to make flexible working the default by affording the right to make a flexible working request from day one of employment, rather than the 26 weeks’ service that is currently required.
It remains to be seen when the Employment Bill will be progressed by the UK Government, or indeed if it will contain all the envisaged provisions above. It is, though, expected that trade unions and other organisations will continue to call for these protections to be implemented, and we may see further developments over the coming months.
Harbours (Seafarers’ Remuneration) Bill
It is worth noting, though, that whilst there was no revival of the Employment Bill, the Queen’s Speech did introduce the Harbours (Seafarers’ Remuneration) Bill. This comes in the wake of P&O Ferries’ decision in March this year to dismiss 786 seafarers and replace them with lower-paid agency workers.
The Bill aims to protect seafarers working aboard vessels visiting UK ports by ensuring the ports have powers to refuse access to services that do not pay an equivalent to the National Minimum Wage to their seafarers while in UK waters. These powers include, amongst other things, surcharging ferry operators who do not pay the minimum wage; requiring operators to have employment details of their crew, even if they do not employ them directly; and legal sanctions in cases of non-compliance with directions.
At present, each vessel entering UK waters is subject to the rules, including wage regulations, of its flag state, therefore this proposal has met with some opposition from various quarters. Consultation on the Bill is expected to open shortly.
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