Some important legislative changes are planned for 2009, including the abolition of the statutory dispute resolution procedures and the extension of the right to request flexible working for parents with children under 16. Read on for a summary of these and other expected developments which may affect your business in the year ahead.

Equality Bill

The Government confirmed in the Queen’s Speech on 3 December 2008 that it intends to introduce the Equality Bill in the next Parliamentary session. The Bill is intended to make discrimination law more accessible and easier to understand by combining nine pieces of discrimination legislation, and about 100 other laws into one single Act. The proposed legislation will enable the Government to make regulations about age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services. It also contains a number of controversial proposals such as a ban on contractual clauses which ban employees from discussing their pay, and an increase in the scope of positive action in the workplace.

Children, Skills and Learning Bill

Also referred to in the Queen’s Speech, this Bill will reform education, training and apprenticeship for young people and adults. From 2013, it is intended that all suitably qualified young people will have the right to an apprenticeship place. Controversially, the Bill provides for all employees to have the right to request unpaid time off to undertake training.

Extension of the right to request flexible working

After some hesitation, the Government has now confirmed that it will press on with its plans to extend the right to request flexible working to parents of children aged 16 and under from 6 April 2009.

Statutory Holidays

The statutory annual leave entitlement for all workers increases from 4.8 weeks to 5.6 weeks on 1st April 2009. Additionally, on 1st August 2009, the maximum average weekly working time for doctors in training will be reduced from 56 to 48 hours.

Tips and the National Minimum Wage

The Government is currently consulting on its plan to change the law so that tips, gratuities and service charges can no longer be taken into account when deciding whether an employer is paying the National Minimum Wage. The consultation will end on 16 February 2009.

Tribunal Procedure

As part of the dispute resolution reforms introduced by the Employment Act 2008, the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedures) (Amendment) Regulations 2008 will take effect on 6 April 2009. These regulations amend the Employment Tribunal Rules of Procedure, deleting those rules which support the statutory dispute resolution procedures; amending the rules for Respondents’ applications for extension of time to present a Response; changing the rules on default judgements; allowing Respondents who are debarred from participating in proceedings to make a request for written reasons; and changing the rules on dismissing claims on withdrawal (including as a result of Acas settlement).

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006

Postponed from 2007, this Act introduces a centralised vetting system for people working with children and vulnerable adults. This is expected to come into effect in October 2009.

Temporary Agency Workers

The UK has until 5 December 2011 to implement the EU Temporary Workers Directive which was published on 5 December this year. It is widely thought that, due to pressure put on the Government by various employer groups, implementation will be left until the last minute. The Directive provides that temporary workers will be entitled to equal treatment in terms of basic working and employment conditions, including pay, holidays, maternity leave, rest periods and working time. It will also ensure equal access to collective facilities, including canteens, transport services and childcare facilities and equal access to training. The Directive enables the UK to provide that an agency worker must be in a job for at least 12 weeks before such entitlements must be afforded.

Employment Act 2008

The Employment Act received Royal Assent on 13 November 2008. The Act will repeal the existing much criticised statutory dispute resolution procedures from 6 April 2009, as well as the related unfair dismissal rules set out in Section 98A Employment Rights Act 1996. Instead, Tribunals will have a discretion to adjust any award of compensation by up to 25% for unreasonable failure to comply with any provisions of the new ACAS Code in circumstances where the Code should be followed. The Act will also make other changes in the laws relating to the National Minimum Wage, employment agencies, trade-union membership and Tribunal powers. The Employment Act 2008 (Commencement No.1 Transitional Provisions and Savings) Order 2008/3232 sets out transitional provisions for the removal of the dispute resolution procedures.