29 May 2015 #Employment
In the Queen’s speech this week, the new Conservative Government set out its legislative programme. The big news is the EU Referendum Bill and the commitment to an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union which will take place by 2017 at the latest. There is speculation it could be held as early as autumn 2016.
Also of key interest to employers is the Trade Unions Bill, put forward by Sajid Javid, the new Business Secretary, which will impose a 50 % turnout threshold for union strike ballots and a requirement that in essential services – health, education, fore and transport, 40% of those entitled to vote must be in favour of strike action. It is also proposed that time limits will apply to the mandate for industrial action derived from the ballot.
Also controversial, is the proposal to reform the funding of political parties by the unions, which could have a significant effect on the funding of the Labour Party. It is proposed that rather than opting out of a union political fund, union members will instead need to opt in. This is attracting condemnation from union leaders although there are already rumblings within UNITE about its funding of Labour.
Other bills relevant to employment and business are:
The Enterprise Bill
This bill will include measures aimed at reducing regulation on small businesses in a bid to boost job creation, continuing with the work undertaken by the former Coalition Government. The aim is to cut red tape for British business by at least £10bn and, for the first time, require independent regulators to contribute to that target.
Interestingly, there is a proposal to create a new Small Business Conciliation Service, to help settle disputes between small and large businesses, especially over late payment practices. The government also aims to improve the business rates system ahead of the 2017 revaluation, including by modernising the appeals system. And it proposes to introduce a cap on public sector redundancy payments.
Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill
The aim is for two million more jobs and three million new apprenticeships to be created. Ministers will be required to report annually to Parliament on their progress. The legislation will also implement a planned reduction in the welfare cap - from £26,000 to £23,000, and freeze working-age benefits, tax credit and child benefit for two years.
This will include measures to help working people "by greatly increasing the provision of free childcare". Under the proposals, parents in England would be entitled to 30 hours a week of free childcare for their three- and four-year-olds, for 38 weeks of the year. Currently, they are entitled to 570 hours of free early education or childcare a year, which works out as 15 hours each week over the 38-week period.
The government is promising to "control immigration" and put "hard-working British families first". Its Immigration Bill is designed to support working people, clamp down on illegal immigration and protect public services. See our separate immigration blog.
British Bill of Human Rights?
Conspicuous by its absence from the Queen’s Speech however are the government’s radical and highly controversial plans to repeal the Human Rights Act and implement a new British Bill of Rights. Before the government proceeds any further with its plan, there will be a consultation process in view of the criticism of the proposals, including the reported threats from “Senior Tories” of a backbench revolt. It looks likely that this will be a lengthy consultation, especially given the already big task the government has in managing other major constitutional reform in terms of an early referendum on EU membership.