The 2017 Queen’s speech provided insight into what matters of law and policy the new minority government intends to pass, or at least attempt to pass, during its period in office. How long that will be remains to be seen, but the Queen noted the government's general commitment to enhancing rights and protections in the modern workforce.
The government plans to increase the national living wage (NLW) to 60 per cent of median earnings (currently projected to be £9 per hour) by 2020. After 2020, the NLW will continue to rise in line with average earnings. This is in keeping with the prime minister’s expressed concern for the ‘just about managings' and the promise of a system that works for everyone.
Gender pay gap and discrimination
The government renewed its commitment to tackling the gender pay gap and reducing discrimination on all grounds. No new legislative measures were proposed but reference was made to existing schemes, such as gender pay gap reporting. The first 'snapshot' dates (31 March and 5 April) have passed and organisations with 250 or more employees are beginning to publish their reports with some showing pay gaps of more than 30 per cent (such as Virgin Money – 32.5 per cent – and asset management firm Schroders – 31-33 per cent – for salary and cash allowances). Whether this gap will decrease as a result of gender pay gap reporting remains unclear.
A new immigration bill was proposed, which will establish national policy on immigration and address the status of EU nationals who continue to reside in the UK following Brexit. Current immigration legislation relating to the rights of EU citizens will not be preserved by the great repeal bill, which will enshrine other EU legislation into UK law.
Since the Queen’s speech, the government has published its proposals for EU migrants who wish to reside in the UK following Brexit. While the finer detail has not been set out, it is expected that all EU citizens residing in the UK will need to obtain ‘settled status’, a new immigration category that will entitle them to broadly the same rights they currently enjoy. Those who arrive after a cut-off date (which the government has not yet set) will be subject to a new, as yet unspecified, post-Brexit immigration scheme. These proposals have been criticised by the EU as not going far enough to protect the rights of EU citizens, and with this in mind they are likely to form part of a first offer that the UK may have to improve upon.
The government also proposed a new data protection bill that will replace the Data Protection Act 1998. The bill will, the government claims, create a data protection framework that is fit for the digital age. It will allow individuals to have more control over their data and enhance the 'right to be forgotten'. The bill will also implement the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which should facilitate the sharing of data between the UK and EU countries following Brexit.
The Taylor review was published on 11 July and makes a number of recommendations on the gig economy and modern working practices, although it remains to be seen whether the government will implement these, given that much of the next two years is likely to taken up with Brexit negotiations.
While advocating some change, the Taylor review sought to build on the strengths and flexibilities of the current system. Proposed changes include:
- Renaming workers who are entitled to benefits such as holiday and holiday pay as 'dependent employees'.
- Making clearer the distinction between employees, dependent employees and the self-employed.
- Reintroducing rolled-up holiday pay, with a premium of 12.07 per cent of wages recommended in lieu of holiday pay.
- Aligning the tax and employment systems so that both HMRC and employment tribunals consider the same criteria and are bound by the other's judgments when assessing an individual's working status.
- Widening the definition of ‘output work' in national minimum wage (NMW) legislation to explicitly include those who carry out work through an app (such as Deliveroo and Uber drivers), and therefore entitle such individuals to the NMW.
The Queen's speech was far shorter than in previous years, reflecting that we now have a minority government that does not have a strong mandate to carry through all of the proposals in the Conservative manifesto. This said, we can expect the rights of workers to be strengthened and continued action on discrimination and issues of gender pay.
Maria Krishnan is a solicitor in the employment team at Thrings