Employment law set for changes

by Laura Morrison, employment lawyer with Maclay Murray & Spens LLP and a member of the firm’s Food and Drink team.
by Laura Morrison, employment lawyer with Maclay Murray & Spens LLP and a member of the firm’s Food and Drink team.
We now have a new UK government, the first single-party government for five years. In terms of employment regulations what could be in store?

What employment law measures did the Queen’s Speech include?
One of the first bills mentioned in the Queen’s Speech aims to reform strike laws. The government is looking to introduce a turnout threshold, so that over half the workforce has to vote in order for a ballot to be valid. We are also likely to see a time limit placed on when industrial action can be taken after a ballot – possibly as short as a three-month period. Importantly for employers in the food and drink sector, where strikes are often planned by unions to hit seasonal peaks in demand, the government also plans to repeal the prohibition on hiring agency workers to cover striking employees and tackle intimidation of non-striking employees.
We will also see a new Immigration Bill in the next year, with illegal working made a criminal offence in its own right, allowing wages paid to illegal immigrants to be seized. It will also become an offence for businesses to hire workers abroad, without first advertising in the UK in English. Businesses that use foreign labour will also be subject to a “skills levy” to fund three million new apprenticeships.

Did the Conservative manifesto include any other plans for employment law?
The government intends to require companies with over 250 employees to publish the difference in pay between male and female employees, to promote full gender equality. In addition, the creation of a new National Living Wage for workers over the age of 25 was announced in the Chancellor’s Budget speech, starting at £7.20 per hour in April 2016 and reaching £9 by 2020.

What about the EU referendum and the abolition of the Human Rights Act?
The much-anticipated referendum on the UK’s EU membership is set to take place by the end of 2017. If the vote were to lead to a UK exit, while the implications for employment law are far from clear at this stage, it would pave the way for many existing employment law provisions to change, such as the rules on working time and paid annual leave. The replacement of the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights is looking less likely, with only a consultation announced so far. It is expected that a new Bill of Rights would not move substantially away from the long-established principles, such as the right to a fair trial, which flow from the Human Rights Act and impact UK employment law.

Where will we not see any changes?
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats had promised to review the system of Employment Tribunal fees introduced by the last government. The Conservative manifesto was silent on this point, so it appears the fees are here to stay for the foreseeable future, unless the on-going challenge by the union Unison through the courts is successful. However, a review is to be completed by the end of this year on the impact of the fees regime.