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What does the Queen’s Speech mean for employment law?

The Queen’s Speech 2019 outlined several Brexit-related Bills, including an Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, designed to end free movement within the UK after Brexit and to lay the foundation for a new, modern and global immigration system. The Bill will also reaffirm the government’s commitment to the right to remain for resident EU citizens “who have built their lives here in the UK”. The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Ending the free movement of EU citizens under UK law
  • The power to align the treatment of EU citizens arriving after January 2021 with non-EU citizens, and to maintain the treatment of EU citizens resident in the UK before exit day
  • Clarifying the immigration status of Irish citizens in the UK once the free movement rules are removed from UK law
  • Confirming the deadline for applications to be made under the EU Settlement Scheme
  • Giving EU citizens and their family members who apply a right of appeal against EU Settlement Scheme decisions.

Should the UK leave the EU without a deal, EU citizens moving to the UK after Brexit and on or before 31 December 2020 will be able to apply for a temporary immigration status, called European Temporary Leave to Remain, which will carry them into the new skills-based immigration system from 2021.

Looking specifically at employment law, the reform agenda was modest as the Speech included only one Bill. The Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill will make sure that tips are kept in full by, or distributed fairly and transparently to, “those who work hard to earn them”.  The main elements of the Bill are:

  • A legal obligation on employers to pass on all tips, gratuities and service charges to workers without any deductions
  • A legal obligation on employers to distribute tips in a fair and transparent manner, where employers have control or significant influence over the distribution of tips
  • The requirement for an employer to follow a statutory Code of Practice when distributing tips – the Code will set out the principles of fair and transparent distribution of tips.

The government did, however, also confirm that it would continue to deliver on the commitments set out in the Good Work Plan, ensuring that UK employment practices keep pace with modern ways of working. In this regard, it committed to:

  • Increasing fairness and flexibility in the labour market by stopping employers and workers experiencing significantly different outcomes from flexible forms of working
  • Strengthening workers’ ability to get redress for poor treatment, including by improving the enforcement system
  • Increasing transparency and clarity for workers and employers, taking account of modern working relationships
  • Giving better support to working families and taking further steps to promote workplace participation for all
  • Increasing the national living wage (NLW) to two-thirds of median hourly earnings and lowering the age threshold for those who qualify from 25 to 21 within the next five years, with further details to be set out at the next Budget (due to be delivered on 6 November 2019 if the UK leaves the EU with a deal).

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What does the Queen’s Speech mean for employment law?

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.

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