The Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament sets out the UK government’s legislative agenda for the year ahead. This year’s speech took place on 10 May, and in addition to the Queen’s absence, there was notable absence of any employment law reform.
In particular, the long-awaited Employment Bill, which was included in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019, was not one of the new Bills announced. Its omission was not unexpected, having been excluded from the legislative agenda during 2020 and 2021 too, but it is perhaps now even clearer that employment law is not a priority for the current government.
When first announced, the Employment Bill was expected to contain a plethora of new or enhanced rights including: carer’s leave; neonatal pay and leave; enhanced redundancy protection during pregnancy and maternity; an ability to retain tips; making flexible working the default; and increased contract predictability for workers. It was also expected to legislate to create a new single enforcement body.
Notwithstanding the lack of an Employment Bill, a number of employment related developments have been announced in the past year, notably the intention to introduce statutory codes on sexual harassment at work and fire and rehire practices; and to legislate for carers leave, and neonatal leave and pay. However, the commitment has been limited to ‘when Parliamentary time allows’, and with 38 Bills announced as part of the 2022 Queen’s speech, parliament have plenty of other legislation to scrutinise first. We also saw consultation on flexible working last year, as well as numerous other consultations on employment related issues, but with no response to those published as yet, we may be lucky to see any progress this year. Further, there is also speculation that certain plans (such as allowing workers to keep tips) have been dropped altogether.
Many employers will be grateful for the lack of developments rather than having to grapple with new legislation and obligations. Also, many already show flexibility and provide support to those whom much of the Employment Bill is aiming to protect. However, trade unions and industry groups have expressed their concern that workers could continue to be exploited by rogue employers as a result of the failure to prioritise the Employment Bill.
It is also noteworthy that one of the Bills announced at the Queen’s Speech is the Retained EU Law Bill. This proposed legislation is intended to: clarify the status of retained EU law in UK law; remove the supremacy of EU retained law over UK laws, ensuring UK laws can take priority; and create new powers to strengthen the ability to amend, repeal or replace retained EU law. This Bill will need to be passed through Parliament in the ordinary way, but subject to the provisions of any legislation passed, may have implications for UK employment law which derives from the EU, including: discrimination laws; leave entitlements and holiday pay; and TUPE. Although the UK has historically ‘gold-plated’ EU mandates in these areas, and there are no current indications of any intention to weaken worker’s rights, it remains to be seen what the future may hold.
For the time being though, the status quo remains and looks likely to do so for a while.