Queen’s speech: workplace issues


4 mins

Posted on 19 Dec 2019

The Queen’s speech, delivered today, sets out the new Government’s legislative programme and covers a number of areas of interest for employers.  

Workers’ rights

Employment Bill

The Bill will:

  • Introduce a new right for all workers to request a more predictable contract. This reflects the previous Government’s commitment in its Good Work Plan (published in December 2018) to give workers a right to request a contract reflecting their normal working hours. However, it does not go as far as a right to switch to a more predictable contract, promised in its consultation on one-sided flexibility in July this year  
  • Extend redundancy protections to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination. This is likely to mean an extension of a woman’s current right to be offered any suitable alternative vacancy before being made redundant. Currently the right only applies where the woman is on maternity leave. The extension is likely to mean the woman will have this right from the moment she informs her employer she is pregnant until six months after the end of her maternity leave. The previous government suggested it would extend protection for those who have taken a period of adoption leave and shared parental leave. There is currently no mention of this
  • Allow parents to take extended leave for neonatal care 
  • Introduce a right for unpaid carers to take one week's leave
  • Subject to consultation, make flexible working the default unless employers have good reason not to offer it 
  • Introduce measures to make sure workers receive tips in full
  • Introduce a single labour market enforcement agency 

Other measures

The Government also confirmed it will extend the National Living Wage to those aged 21 and over within five years. Currently it is only available to those aged 25 and over. The Chancellor has also pledged to increase the National Living Wage to two-thirds of median earnings within five years, if economic conditions allow. 

Immigration

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

The Bill will:

  • End free movement of EU citizens under UK law
  • Provide the power to align the treatment of EU citizens with non-EU citizens from 2021
  • Provide the power to change the current rules for access to benefits and social security co-ordination 

Other measures

The Government also plans to create visa schemes for new migrants who will fill shortages in public services. This includes a fast-track NHS scheme.  It will also quadruple the annual quota for the pilot Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme from 2,500 to 10,000.   

The new immigration system will require new arrivals to pay the immigration health surcharge.  The Government will also increase the cost of the surcharge for those staying in the UK for more than six months so it covers the full cost of use. 

The Government has also outlined key features of its new immigration system, set to be introduced from January 2021.  Points will be allocated on a range of criteria in three broad categories, focusing on skills and talents as follows: 

  • Exceptional talent/contribution covering:
    • migrants who have received world-leading awards or demonstrated exceptional talent in another way
    • sponsored entrepreneurs setting up a new business and
    • investors who want to invest in the UK
  • Skilled workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a job offer 
  • Sector-specific workers who enter on schemes for low-skilled work, youth mobility or short-term visits. These will not provide a route to permanent settlement and will be revised on an ongoing basis based on the Migration Advisory Committee’s’ advice 

The European Withdrawal Bill will protecting the rights of EU citizens in UK law, ensuring resident EU citizens have the right to remain in the UK 

Pensions

Pension Schemes Bill

The Bill appears to cover much the same ground as the Pensions Schemes Bill announced in the October Queen’s speech and published in October. It will:

  • Provide a framework for establishing, operating and regulating collective defined contribution schemes 
  • Strengthen the Pensions Regulator’s powers and the existing sanctions regime. This will include new criminal offences, with the most serious carrying a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment and a civil penalty of up to £1 million  
  • Provide a framework to support pensions dashboards 
  • Give the Pensions Regulator powers to obtain information about schemes and sponsoring employers in a timely manner, so that it is able to gain redress for pension schemes and members when things go wrong
  • Create regulations setting out the circumstances in which a scheme member will have the right to transfer their savings to another scheme
  • Provide clearer scheme funding requirements for defined benefit schemes and strengthen the Regulator’s scheme funding powers
  • Amend the legislation for the Pensions Protection Fund compensation regime so the Fund can continue to apply the regime as intended 

The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.

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