Omission of employment bill from Queen’s Speech a ‘missed opportunity’

For second year in a row, there was no mention of plans that would promote fairness in the workplace, but experts say there are still proposals businesses need to consider

Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Organisations have criticised the government after the employment bill was omitted from the Queen’s speech for the second year in a row.

The speech, given this year by HRH The Prince of Wales, outlined 38 new bills on a range of policies including data reform, post-Brexit business rules and ‘Levelling Up’, among other things. However, there was outcry from the business community about the dearth of legislation on employment.

People Management takes a look at what was and wasn't covered, and how this impacts firms. 

The employment bill was left out…

A unified employment bill was part of the Conservatives’ manifesto pledges in the 2019 election. But, this is the second year in a row it has not been included in the government’s legislative agenda. 

The promised bill, if and when it does arrive, is expected to cover a range of measures intended to improve employee experiences in the workplace including flexible work rights, stronger legal protection of pregnant employees and carers, the creation of a single enforcement body to protect employee rights and the provision of right to request a more stable contract. 

Ben Willmott, head of policy at the CIPD, says failing to include the proposals in the speech was a “missed opportunity”, and with the next election scheduled for 2024, delaying the bill would leave the government little time to meet its promises to “protect and enhance workers’ rights”.

“The recent sacking of workers, without notice, by P&O Ferries shows that much more needs to be done to ensure unscrupulous employers cannot ignore their legal responsibilities and undercut employment standards in the UK,” he explains.

Willmott adds that firms are still waiting on the government’s response to the consultation on making flexible working the default, adding that the exclusion of the employment bill will also be “hugely disappointing for working carers that there is no progress on legislating to give them new rights to take time off to manage their caring responsibilities.”  

This was echoed by Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families: “Relying on employers alone to create flexible and family-friendly working environments is not enough.

“Too many parents and carers are struggling to balance their work and family commitments – particularly those in insecure work and on low incomes,” she says, stating that Working Families’ own research found more than three-quarters of parents wanted government intervention to create more flexible jobs.

… but there are some proposals businesses need to consider

While the absence of an employment bill was “disappointing”, Amanda Mackenzie, chief executive of Business in the Community, says she welcomes the Levelling Up and Regeneration bill. This bill “gives parliament the opportunity to ensure that businesses are involved in helping deliver on the levelling up agenda,” she said.

But, Mackenzie warns, without the support of the private sector, and collaboration from organisations working in communities, the Levelling Up agenda might not be successful.

Yesterday’s speech also included plans for enforcing a minimum wage for seafarers in UK waters. However the proposals, which would see ferries that don’t pay their workers the equivalent to minimum wage banned from docking at UK ports, have been called “feeble and likely unworkable” by Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC.

“Only stronger employment legislation that boosts worker protections and stops companies firing on the spot will prevent another P&O-type scandal,” she says.

Alongside the more specific legislative proposals, yesterday’s speech also included some broad-brush promises to reform EU business rules still in force in the UK. Chris Thompson, partner at Gateley Legal, says the plans “seize the opportunities of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, to support economic growth”.

But, he said: “It’s possible that rather than strengthening rights, the reference to removal of regulations on businesses may indicate that the removal of existing EU derived employment protections is being considered under a new Brexit Freedoms Bill.”

Outside the Queen’s Speech…

This week, the government also announced it would widen the ban on exclusivity clauses, which could give low-paid workers the opportunity to work multiple jobs if they wish. This would mean employers would no longer be allowed to include in their employment contracts restrictions on working for other employers where the employee’s guaranteed weekly income is £123 or less.

Legislation for this reform will be presented to parliament later this year.