The Queen’s Speech 2015: what is on the employment agenda?
The Queen’s Speech on 27 May 2015 covers a wide range of plans which will affect employment law, most of which have been covered exhaustively in the media. Perhaps one of the most hotly debated proposals is that of the proposed replacement of the Human Rights Act 1998 with a Bill of Rights. However there was no announcement for legislation in the Queen’s Speech and instead the government has announced that it will launch a consultation on introducing a Bill of Rights. The campaigning body Liberty views this as a small victory as it seems that at least the government has paused for thought. Opposition parties and a minority of Conservative ministers oppose the scrapping of the Human Rights Act although the government remains committed to the plans.
So, what else should employment practitioners be on the lookout for?
Among other measures to tackle so-called ‘extremist’ views, the controversial Extremism Bill includes the introduction of employment checks, which will enable companies to check whether an individual is an ‘extremist’ so that they can be barred from working with children. This check will need to be added to an employer’s ‘right to work’ checks if the Bill is passed. Further detail on the scope and procedure of this check is awaited.
The new Immigration Bill plans to create a new enforcement agency to tackle serious cases of exploitation as well as creating a new offence of illegal working and enabling wages to be seized as proceeds of crime. There will be consultation on the introduction of a new visa levy on businesses that recruit overseas labour to fund extra apprenticeships for British and EU workers.
This Bill aims to cap redundancy pay to public sector workers and establish a small business conciliation service to handle business-to-business disputes without involving the courts. There will also be reform of the present system by which businesses appeal against business rates. The Bill also aims to cut red tape, potentially saving £10bn for British businesses.
Investigatory Powers Bill
This wide-ranging and controversial Bill will revive plans to give intelligence agencies tools to target communications data. Further details are expected in the next few days but it is expected that the Bill will require internet service providers and mobile operators to log more data about customers’ activities and will give more powers to Ofcom to take action against TV channels that broadcast ‘extremist content’. Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group has said: ‘the government is signalling that it wants to press ahead with increased powers of data collection and retention for the police and GCHQ, spying on everyone, whether suspected of a crime or not’.
Trades Union Bill
The key elements of the Trades Union Bill are a 50% voting threshold for union strike ballot turnouts, and a requirement that 40% of those entitled to vote must back action in essential public services (health, education, fire and transport). Time limits will also be introduced on a mandate following a ballot for industrial action and the government promises to tackle intimidation of non-striking workers. The government says that the aim is to ensure that strikes are the result of ‘clear positive and recent decisions’ by union embers as well as ensuring that disruption to essential public services has a democratic mandate. The government also plans to introduce a ‘transparent opt-in process for the political fund element of trade union subscriptions’ along the lines of the Northern Ireland system. It is anticipated that this could hit the funding of the Labour party.
Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill
This Bill aims to reduce the household benefit cap; inpose a two-year freeze on most working age benefits, including unemployment benefit; remove automatic entitlement to housing support for 18-21 year olds; and create duties to report on the progress of certain government policies.
European Referendum Bill
Are we in or are we out? This Bill will pave the way for an in-out referendum, with the question expected to be along the line of: ‘Should the UK remain a member of the EU?”. In the Queen’s Speech, the prime minister said that he would renegotiate the UK’s membership and pursue reform of the EU for the benefit of all member states, promising early legislation to pave the way for a referendum by the end of 2017.
Personal tax allowance
Legislation is proposed to ensure that people working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage pay no income tax.