The Queen’s speech

On 19 December 2019, the Queen’s Speech was delivered in the Houses of Parliament, setting out details of legislation that the Government intends to carry over into, or introduce in, the forthcoming Parliamentary session.

As part of the Good Work Plan, the Government announced proposals for a single labour market enforcement agency to better ensure that vulnerable workers are aware of and can exercise their rights and which supports business compliance.

Employees will have the right to request a more predictable contract and the right to neonatal leave and pay for parents of premature or sick babies.

The Bill will also take forward the extension of the period of redundancy protection from the point an employee notifies her employer of her pregnancy until six months after the end of her maternity leave.

The provision of a week’s leave for unpaid careers and making flexible working the default, as set out in the Conservative Party’s manifesto, will also be included. Provision will be made for tips to be received by workers in full.

As part of its national disability strategy, the Government will be bringing forward detailed proposals next year following its “health is everyone’s business” consultation. Legislation will be brought forward to reduce the disruption caused by rail strikes, ensuring that the public is not disproportionately affected by strike action, while preserving rail workers’ right to strike.

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill will end free movement in UK law and allow the Government to align the treatment of EU citizens arriving from 1 January 2021 with non-EU citizens. It will lay the foundations for a new points-based immigration system from 2021. There are proposals to introduce a fast-track NHS visa scheme and to increase the annual quota for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme. The Government reiterated its commitment to ensuring that EU citizens resident in the UK have the right to remain under the EU Settlement Scheme.

The impact of Brexit

Subject to the necessary legislation being passed, the UK could exit the EU without a deal by the end of 2020.

If a deal is concluded, most EU law will continue to apply and no drastic changes are envisaged as regards employment law.

If no deal is reached, EU law will stop applying to the UK on exit day and the Government’s post-Brexit policies could take effect on exit. In particular, the Workplace Rights technical notices published in 2018 and 2019 state that small amendments to the language of UK employment legislation would be made to reflect the fact that the UK is no longer an EU country but that existing employment rights will not be affected.

However, the exception to this is, firstly, employee rights on an employer’s insolvency and, secondly, in respect of European Works Councils. These changes will lead to reduced protection for employees working in an EU country if the employer becomes insolvent. No new requests to set up a Works Council or information or consultation procedure will be allowed.

Possible changes post-Brexit

It is thought unlikely that wholesale changes will be introduced but there has been speculation that a cap could be imposed on discrimination damages (currently there is no cap), and positive discrimination could be allowed to help under-represented groups, a concept outlawed by EU law.

While parental leave rights are seen by some businesses as a burden, there does not appear to be any real appetite to water these rights down, and the same train of thought applies to holiday entitlement and working time regulations. However, one area of concern is the rolling over of holiday entitlement while an employee is on sick leave. Currently rules allow an 18-month accrual period, and this could be reduced or even scrapped.

Holiday pay is based on all aspects of remuneration and it may well be that this could be watered down to be based purely on basic salary which would be in line with the notice provisions to be found in most employment contracts.

Another area of possible change is the thorny issue of working hours which are currently capped at 48 hours unless (as is often the case) an opt-out agreement is in place, and the cap could be abandoned.

There are possible changes which could be made to collective redundancy consultation regulations which impose consultation time restrictions on employers depending on the numbers of employees being made redundant. European Works Councils may be removed but in reality the obligations on businesses are relatively light. Note that post-Brexit, UK-based employees will not count as part of the “community-based undertaking” and if there are insufficient employees to warrant a Works Council, that would of course mean that the Works Council would no longer be subject to EU law but could in practice continue to function.

Finally, an indication was given in the Queen’s Speech on 19 December that our judges will be free to depart from decisions of the European Court of Justice, which could open the door to major changes in all areas of law.

If you would like to discuss how any of these changes could affect your business, contact Andrew Fishleigh on 020 3319 3700 or [email protected]