The Employment Bill
In 2019, the announcement of the Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech brought hope and the expectation of enhanced protections for carers, zero hours workers and pregnant women or women on maternity leave, amongst other things. However, three years on and there is still no legislation. It appears that the Employment Bill has slipped down on the Government’s priorities with no mention of it in the recent Queen’s Speech, and no indication of when it will be back on the agenda.
A parliamentary debate held on 14 June 2022 confirmed that the new statutory right to one week of unpaid Carer’s Leave remains firmly in view, but will be dealt with when “parliamentary time allows”. Clearly, this is disappointing as it is a much-anticipated piece of legislation and now the timing of it seems uncertain. In the meantime, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has provided assurances that “alternative vehicles” for bringing forward the legislation will be considered. While there have been discussions about the use of secondary legislation by means of Statutory Instrument, this is an area where primary legislation is required.
Employers who are supportive of the changes are encouraged to step ahead of the legislation and introduce policies to afford employees this right before the legislation is implemented. It remains to be seen whether employers will take the leap.
There were other consultations last year on employment-related issues such as flexible working, proposing changes aimed at making flexible working the default unless employers have good reasons not to agree. However, no responses have been published to date and it is doubtful that we will see any movement or progress on flexible working this year.
While some employers might be glad of the lack of development and the need to get to grips with new obligations created by legislation, others are keen and supportive of what the Employment Bill was aiming to achieve. There is a distinct feeling of being in limbo and uncertainty for employers and employees alike. But for now at least, the status quo is maintained. It is difficult to agree with reports that the Employment Bill is completely dead, but rather the preferred thought is that it is delayed. It will be interesting to see what proposals do make their way into the draft legislation when the time comes or indeed, when that may be.
The future of the UK labour market – is employment law fit for purpose?
BEIS launched an inquiry in May 2022 into the UK labour market. This is the next step of the Post-Pandemic Economic Growth inquiry, which was launched in June 2020. The purpose of the inquiry is to understand whether the UK has enough workers with the right skills in the right places to do the jobs required in our economy, including issues related to our ageing population, migration changes and the impact of technology. As part of this, it also wants to understand whether current employment law is fit for purpose or requires reform.
The call for evidence welcomed submissions on any challenges that UK employers and workers are facing; and any solutions or actions required by the Government, businesses or employers to support the UK labour market. The committee has said that it will not be able to consider every aspect of the economy in depth, so it is welcoming significant case studies that show national trends. The inquiry closed on 8 July 2022, but the Government response date has not yet been published. It will be interesting to explore the outcomes of the inquiry and the Government’s response in the coming months.
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