Employment Bill reported to be delayed again

Reports suggest there will be no Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech, meaning a further delay for promised reforms on carers, flexible working and maternity rights.

Maternity Leave Letter - pregnant mum working on a laptop

Once you have decided when you take maternity leave, you will have to send a letter to your employer

Next week’s Queen’s Speech will not include proposals to strengthen flexible working or introduce unpaid leave for carers, according to The Times, which reports that ministers have once again shelved plans for an Employment Bill.

An Employment Bill has been promised for several years, but has so far been delayed on successive occasions. First mooted by Theresa May’s government, it was to include some of the recommendations of the Matthew Taylor review into modern ways of working which was commissioned in 2016.

The Government previously said it would include the following key reforms in the Employment Bill:

– The creation of a new single state enforcement body with responsibility for enforcing minimum wage requirements, anti-slavery law and holiday pay for vulnerable workers and for the regulation of employment agencies and use of umbrella companies.

– The extension of the right to available suitable alternative employment on redundancy to cover pregnant employees and those within six months of returning from maternity leave, with similar rights for those returning from adoption and shared parental leave.

– The introduction of a new right to paid neonatal leave of up to 12 weeks, to support parents whose babies need neonatal care.

– The creation of a new right to a week’s unpaid leave for carers each year.

– The introduction of a new right for workers who work variable hours to request a more predictable and stable contract after 26 weeks.

– Plans to make flexible working the default. A consultation on this took place at the end of last year, but there has been nothing announced as a result since it was closed in December.

In the first Queen’s Speech after the 2019 election the Government vowed that “measures will be brought forward to encourage flexible working” and “to introduce the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers” as part of an Employment Bill. The Times is reporting that the Business Secretary feels a need to prioritise other areas despite repeated pledges by the Conservatives to improve workers’ rights after Brexit.

Last month the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady wrote to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng when rumours of the bill being dropped were circulating, saying: “If the government ditches the employment bill it will be sending a green light to rogue employers to treat staff like disposable labour. After the scandalous events at P&O, which have exposed gaping holes in UK employment law, the need for new legislation has never been clearer or more urgent.  There is no excuse for delay. If the government breaks its promise to enhance workers’ rights working people will have been conned and betrayed.”

Flexible working

Meanwhile, the last few days have seen various announcements on flexible working from employers, with opposing positions taken by different companies. For instance, from next month law firm Stephenson Harwood has offered its staff the option to work from home, but to do so they have to accept a 20% pay cut. Otherwise, they need to be in the office at least three days a week. Homeworkers will have to go into the office for just one day each month.

However, Airbnb has announced plans to allow employees to live and work anywhere in the country they work in with no cut in pay. It also said that, from September, they can live and work in over 170 countries for up to 90 days a year in each location while retaining a permanent address for tax and payroll purposes. Employees will have ‘meaningful in-person gatherings’ that will happen throughout the year and will work in a ‘highly coordinated way’ based on a single company calendar with a multi-year roadmap.

Maternity rights

On maternity rights, there has been news over the weekend that Maternity Action, a charity that campaign for maternity rights, has been thrown off a government advisory board in response to tweets which were critical of the Government’s approach and a perceived lack of progress. Director Ros Bragg tweeted: “We have an advisory board looking at ‘non-legislative improvements’ to reduce maternity discrimination which will meet quarterly until March 2023. No action plan. No recommendations for legislative change.” After other tweets on recommendations from the sector, she added: “Disappointing”. Pregnant Then Screwed, which is on the advisory board, says it will raise the issue at the next meeting.

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