With the General Election having returned a minority government and with the government’s priority being to legislate for Brexit, a rather more modest agenda for employment law reform was outlined in the Queen’s Speech 2017 than originally may have been envisaged. Parliament will also sit for two years instead of the ordinary one year, to give MPs sufficient time to consider the laws required to prepare the UK for Brexit. This means there will not be a Queen’s Speech in 2018.
The Queen’s Speech 2017 outlined eight Brexit-related Bills, including a Repeal Bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and convert EU law into UK law at the point of the UK’s departure from the EU, including EU-derived employment law, and an Immigration Bill to allow for the repeal of EU law on immigration, primarily free movement, and to make the migration of EU nationals and their family members subject to relevant UK law once the UK has left the EU.
Looking specifically at employment law reform, the Speech confirmed the commitment in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto to increase the national living wage (NLW) to reach 60% of median earnings by 2020 and then to subsequently raise it in line with median earnings. However, there was no mention of equivalent increases for the other rates of the national minimum wage (NMW). The Speech also stated that the government will “seek to enhance rights and protections in the modern workplace”. This presumably refers to the Taylor Review of Employment Practices in the Modern Economy and indicates that the government intends to act on at least some of the recommendations in that review when the report is published in the next few weeks.
The Speech outlined that the government will make further progress to tackle the gender pay gap, which may refer to the Conservative Party’s election manifesto undertaking to extend the gender pay gap reporting regime to include additional data, and to tackle discrimination against people on the basis of their race, faith, gender, disability or sexual orientation. It remains to be seen whether this will involve further amendment of the Equality Act 2010 but the Conservative Party’s election manifesto stated that disability discrimination protection would be extended to workers suffering from “episodic and fluctuating” mental health conditions and employers would be obliged to carry out a needs assessment for mental health.
The legislation that will probably have the most significance for employers is the Data Protection Bill. The main purpose of this will be to implement the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and to replace the Data Protection Act 1998, putting the UK in a position to maintain the ability to share data with EU member states after Brexit.
However, several proposals for employment law reform set out in the Conservatives Party’s election manifesto were notably missing from the Queen’s Speech and therefore it’s assumed that these proposals have fallen by the wayside, at least for the next two years. These include:
- Extending gender pay gap reporting to include race/ethnic groups.
- A new statutory right to unpaid time off to care for sick relatives.
- A new statutory right to child bereavement leave.
- A new right for employees to request information on the future direction of the company.
- A requirement for listed companies to strengthen employee representation at board level.
- Extension of the right to request unpaid time off for training to all employees.