The Queen’s Speech
On 27 May 2015 the Queen’s Speech was delivered and it referred to the introduction of nine new pieces of legislation with implications for employers. The Speech only provided a brief outline and we will need to wait for further details before being in a position to assess their likely impact. However, here is a brief summary of what is in the pipeline:
European Union Referendum Bill and British Bill of Rights
While there is no doubting that these two are the headline acts, their impact is the most difficult to gauge. The EU Referendum Bill will provide for an in-out referendum on membership of the EU before the end of 2017. As we are all aware, Mr Cameron is currently touring Europe in an attempt to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the European Union (EU). The result of the referendum could be dependant upon the outcome of those negotiations, but if I am being honest, I don’t fancy his chances against Frau Merkel.
The detail around the British Bill of Rights is particularly scant – all we really know is that the proposal is to replace the Human Rights Act 1998. Such a proposal is fraught with difficulty and is extremely complicated from a legal perspective. That said, if the UK votes to come out of the EU this may simplify matters.
Trade Unions Bill
This Bill aims to reform trade unions and to protect essential public services from the disruption caused by strikes. The Bill will introduce a number of significant changes including a requirement for a minimum threshold of 50% of voters to turn out to vote on union ballots, the requirement that 40% of those entitled to vote, vote in favour of striking for industrial action in the health, education, fire and transport services, and protective measures aimed at preventing the intimidation of non-striking workers. Personally, I can see the sense in these proposals but their introduction will represent a crushing blow to the already dwindling powers of the Unions.
The Childcare Bill will increase the provision of free childcare for eligible working parents of children aged three and four years old to 30 hours a week (for 38 weeks of the year). As a father of two children aged under three, I am firmly in favour of this proposal, and even putting my personal bias to one side, it is difficult to find anyone who will argue that the cost of childcare does not impact on a parent’s ability to return to work and that this needs to change.
Immigration was one of, if not the, hot topic of the election. The Immigration Bill will render illegal working a criminal offence, allow wages paid to illegal migrants to be seized as the proceeds of crime, create a new enforcement agency with powers to take action against employers who exploit migrant workers and make it illegal for employment agencies to only recruit from abroad without first advertising those jobs in Britain. While it is unlikely that these measures will satisfy Mr Farage and his supporters, they are likely to be well received by most of the country.
And The Rest
The Enterprise Bill will reduce the red tape for small businesses and cap exit payments made to public sector workers, the Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill is the government’s attempt to create three million new apprenticeships over the next five years. The Extremism Bill will introduce a number of measures including the ability for employers to check whether an individual is an extremist (how this would work in practice remains to be seen) and bar them from working with children and the Finance Bill/National Insurance Contributions Bill will ensure that future increases to the personal income tax allowance are linked to changes to the national minimum wage (NMW); this will ensure that people working 30 hours a week on the NMW will not pay income tax.