The government has been accused of breaking its promises to improve workers’ rights, as the employment bill was excluded from today’s Queen’s Speech.
Some have suggested that it appears that the long-promised bill, which was set to bring forth new rights including flexible working by default, one week’s unpaid carers’ leave, extended paid leave for neonatal care, and the right to keep gratuities in full, has been shelved by the government.
The bill, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech in 2019, would also extend redundancy protections to prevent maternity and pregnancy discriminations, create a new right to request a more predictable contract, and create a new single enforcement body to ensure workers’ rights are protected.
Prince Charles delivered the 2022 Queen’s Speech today (10 May), as Her Majesty was unable to attend the ceremony – which marks the state opening of parliament – due to mobility issues.
Employment bill proposals
The Queen said that the government’s mission was to “level up all parts of the country and help people into work”, and easing the cost of living was among its priorities.
Ministers would support the Bank of England to return inflation to its target, and the government would “continue to champion international trade, delivering jobs across the country”, by delivering the first new free trade agreement since the UK left the EU.
Good news for ‘rogue’ employers
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said it appeared the prime minister had “turned his back on working people”.
“Today, bad bosses up and down the country will be celebrating,” she said. “By shelving the employment bill, ministers have sent a signal that they are happy for rogue employers to ride roughshod over workers’ rights.
“Enough is enough. This is a government that just doesn’t get it – from the cost of living emergency to the insecure work epidemic. People can’t wait for greater rights and security at work – they need it now.”
CIPD head of policy, Ben Willmott, said: “The decision to delay the employment bill once again leaves the government with very little time to meet its promises to protect and enhance workers’ rights and make the UK the best place in the world to work.
“We still await the government’s response to the consultation on making flexible working the default. However, there remains parliamentary time for the government to make good on its important commitment to boost the availability of flexible working by making the right to request flexible working a day one right.”
The TUC and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) have written a joint letter to business minister Paul Scully, which suggests the employment bill was needed to tackle wide-ranging and systemic issues in the labour market.
Employers have been crying out for clarity in relation to employment status for years, particularly in relation to the growing area of platform work where huge numbers of cases are clogging up the courts” – Stefan Martin, Hogan Lovells
The letter says: “Without the bill, thousands of hard-working individuals and their employers will become entangled with exploitative labour market intermediaries that fragment the employment relationship and embroil both worker and agencies in fraudulent tax models.
“Good firms may be exposed to unfair competition, driving standards down rather than up. We’d expected the employment bill to be the vehicle for delivering this much needed reform, including through the creation of a single enforcement body and proper regulation of ‘umbrella companies’ – a step that is long overdue.”
Stefan Martin, a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells, said: “Employers have been crying out for clarity in relation to employment status for years, particularly in relation to the growing area of platform work where huge numbers of cases are clogging up the courts as workers and employers seek to clarify their rights and obligations.
“We were also expecting the government to introduce new legislation to promote equality, with expanded pay gap reporting in relation to race and disability. Since Brexit, businesses have been hoping for a bonfire of EU red tape which has not materialised.”
Revise the bill
However, Molly Johnson-Jones, CEO at flexible working adviser Flexa Careers, said one benefit of the delay would be the opportunity to address shortcomings in the employment bill.
“Crucially, although the legislation which would have enabled employees to request flexible work from their first day of employment, it offered no guarantee that employers would accommodate them,” she said.
“At best, this would have bred resentment between employers and employees being pushed unwillingly back into offices. At worst, it would have left carers, people with health conditions (myself included) and many others who are reliant on flexible work in hugely precarious positions.
Although the legislation which would have enabled employees to request flexible work from their first day of employment, it offered no guarantee that employers would accommodate them,” – Molly Johnson-Jones, Flexa Careers
“A far better solution is to hold companies accountable for providing information about their working policies upfront. This puts the power in employees’ hands and means that they can apply for roles at companies that align with their needs.”
Employers taking the initiative
Sophie Vanhegan, a partner at law firm GQ Littler, said employers had been left in limbo, unable to determine whether they needed to update their policies in readiness for any proposed legislative changes.
She said: “A lot of large corporates have already gone ahead and put similar measures of their own in place. In the absence of legislation, the current tight labour market is generating change in and of itself. Employers competing for talent are leading the way in the absence of these changes coming through changes to the law.
“However, many employers we speak to would welcome a level playing field on these issues and would welcome the government taking the lead on employment rights.”
Working Families, which campaigns for better access to flexible working, said that reliance on employers to create family-friendly working environments was not enough, and many parents and carers were struggling to balance their work and family commitments.
“Our research from 2021 shows that over three-quarters of UK parents want the government to intervene to create more flexible jobs. The government has a clear mandate to act,” Working Families commented.
“We also know from our research that a significant proportion of parents who work shifts receive less than a week’s notice of their shift patterns. The hardest hit are young, low-income families.”