Now that the Conservatives are in government, we can expect more changes to employment law over the next five years.
Already the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 has banned exclusivity clauses, which prohibit staff on zero-hours contracts from working for more than one employer, even if that employer has no work available. But the ban applies only if the employee is paid less than £20 an hour and earns less than a specified weekly amount. The act became law just before parliament was dissolved.
The act also says that organisations with 250 employees or more will, when regulations are made, be required to publish the difference between the average pay of their male and female employees.
In addition, it is highly likely that the existing system of employment tribunal fees will continue unless Unison's pending judicial review appeal succeeds.
There were further announcements in the Queen's Speech in May:
- One aim of the Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill is to create two million more jobs and three million new apprenticeships, although how this is to be achieved is not spelled out. It will also propose to reduce the welfare cap from £26,000 to £23,000 and freeze working-age benefits, tax credit and child benefit for two years.
- The aim of the Enterprise Bill 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. It is not clear how this will be done, but it might involve employment issues.
- A Childcare Bill 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-old children for 38 weeks of the year. This is an increase from the current 15 hours.
The Conservative manifesto made several other pledges that will affect the direction of travel of employment law, including:
- The national minimum wage should continue to rise so that it will be more than £8 by the end of the decade. Further steps will be taken to eradicate non-payment of the national minimum wage and businesses will be encouraged to pay the living wage. Already introduced in 2015 is a maximum £20,000 penalty for non-compliance with the national minimum wage, so that it can apply to each underpaid worker, as opposed to all underpaid workers collectively.
- The Human Rights Act should be abolished and replaced with a British Bill of Rights. The link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights would end and the Supreme Court would be the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK.
Gill Taylor is a sector HR consultant