Queen’s Speech: new legislation for HR to look forward to in 2009

A stripped-down Queen’s Speech last week revealed that the government would press on with much of its employment law agenda for 2009 despite the economic crisis.

Measures to increase workplace equality, reform the welfare-to-work process and boost skills all featured.

Immediately afterwards, employment relations minister Pat McFadden confirmed that the planned extension of flexible working rights would also go ahead.

The draft programme had been rewritten in a bid to focus on tackling economic woes, but 2009 will still see the following legislation passed through Parliament.

The Equality Bill: diversity, transparency and ‘positive discrimination’

According to the draft Bill:

  • Tribunals will be given power to recommend that organisations change their equality policies
  • Employers will be able to choose a job candidate from an under-represented group over an equally qualified ‘majority’ candidate
  • Public sector employers – and private firms bidding for state work – will have to publish statistics on gender pay differences, as well as the numbers of ethnic minority and disabled people employed
  • Public sector bodies will have a new equality duty

Industry reaction

“Procurement can be an effective lever to improve equality, but the focus should be on achieving outcomes.”

John Cridland, deputy director-general, CBI

“Forcing employers to recruit more people from minority groups may lead to tensions in the workplace.”

Sam Mercer, director of workplace, Business in the Community


The welfare reform Bill: employability training and back-to-work support

A White Paper is expected next week. Plans include:

  • People on incapacity benefit to be assessed by doctors on what they can and can’t do

  • Back-to-work support for disabled people who could re-enter employment

  • Community work for those unemployed for two years and abusing the system

  • A demanding programme of employability training after six months on Jobseekers Allowance

  • ‘Lie detector’ technology to catch benefits cheats

Industry reaction

“This will help people be more job-ready and more likely to be in work when the economy picks up.”

John Philpott, chief economist, CIPD

“This signals the break up of the welfare state as we know it, with the removal of the state safety net.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary, PCS union


The Children’s Skills and Learning Bill: time off for training, and boost for apprenticeships

A brand new Bill announced last week. Proposals include:

  • Providing employees with the right to request time off for training

  • Establishing a Skills Funding Agency to take over the role of distributing adult skills funding from 2010, when the Learning and Skills Council is closed

  • Establishing the National Apprenticeship Service to administer the expanded apprenticeship programme

  • A new ‘qualifications regulator’ to be appointed, with stronger powers to safeguard standards

Industry reaction

“We are delighted the government has responded to the need to encourage investment in skills.”

Petra Wilton, director, Chartered Management Institute

“Training is a two-way street. It is of benefit to the learner, but must also contribute to meeting business needs.”

Jackie Orme, chief executive, CIPD


Further amendments to the employment rights act: flexible working rights extended

  • Existing flexible working legislation – allowing employees with children up to the age of six and registered carers to request flexible working patterns – will be extended to parents of children up to the age of 16 from April, as recommended by Sainsbury’s HR director Imelda Walsh in her government-commissioned report.

  • This quashes fears the extension would be put on hold. Business secretary Peter Mandelson said in October that he was listening to arguments that the extension should be postponed

Industry reaction

“Implementing this policy in April will place an extra administrative burden on companies at a difficult time.”

John Cridland, deputy director-general, CBI

“It is only a right to request, but businesses can be concerned about the reaction of employees if they refuse.”

Laura Livingstone, employment partner, Davenport Lyons law firm

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