Yesterday’s Queen’s speech was the second in less than three months, but it was delivered in very different circumstances from the previous one, as the Conservative Government now has a sizeable majority in Parliament following last week’s General Election. As expected, given the Government’s election promise to “get Brexit done”, preparations for Brexit formed the primary focus of the speech, but plans were announced in a variety of other areas as well. Below, we take a look at some of the measures that are likely to be of interest for employers.
New immigration system
One of the key aspects of preparing for Brexit is the introduction of a new immigration system, under which EU and non-EU citizens newly arriving in the UK will be subject to the same rules from 2021. The Government has previously pledged both to reduce immigration to what it refers to as “sustainable” levels, while also ensuring that employers are able to bring in foreign workers who have the skills they need.
The Queen’s speech specified that the new immigration system will be modern and fair and will welcome skilled workers from across the world. The accompanying briefing document explains that the system will be points-based, with eligibility dependent upon people’s skills and contributions to the UK, rather than nationality. It notes that the Migration Advisory Committee is due to report in January 2020 on the Australian system and other international comparators and that the Government will set out further details of its proposed system “in due course”.
The briefing document also clarifies that the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will include measures to ensure that resident European citizens, who have built their lives in, and contributed to, the UK, have the right to remain here.
Supporting working families and making work fairer
Much like the last Queen’s speech in October, the text of this Queen’s speech was noticeably light on detail in the employment law sphere. The speech did contain a statement that the Government will take steps to support working families, citing an increase in the rate of the National Living Wage (with a projected rate of £10.50 per hour by 2024, if economic circumstances allow), as well as measures to encourage flexible working and the introduction of an entitlement to leave for unpaid carers.
The accompanying briefing document went into some further detail, however, making clear that there will be an Employment Bill to take forward a variety of proposals – most of which originally date from before the General Election. These include:
• Introduction of a new, single labour market enforcement agency to improve protection for vulnerable workers.
• Protections for casual workers addressing the issue of one-sided flexibility, including a right to request a regular-hours contract.
• Introduction of neonatal leave and pay for parents of babies born prematurely.
• Subject to consultation, a proposal to make flexible working the default approach unless employers have good reason to refuse it.
• Extending protection against redundancy during pregnancy and maternity leave.
The briefing document that accompanied the Queen’s speech sets out an ambitious legislative agenda, but it is likely to be some time before any employment proposals make it into legislation, as Brexit and immigration-related matters are bound to take priority on the parliamentary timetable in the short- to medium-term.
How can Make UK help?
We will continue to monitor legal developments and represent members’ views to Government, and will keep members updated on the ever evolving HR and employment law agenda.
For day to day employment matters, Make UK members have access to our bank of online legal documents and templates, and can always contact us for specialist guidance on HR & legal issues as they arise.
We also offer in-depth legal training on a wide range of employment issues. Our latest seminar, “IR35 Workshop: how to prepare for the new rules and assess your risk”, will explain the changes to the IR35 rules that are due to come into effect in April 2020, looking in detail at the employee status tests so you can determine whether individual contractor relationships fall inside or outside IR35 and illustrating the potential financial impact on you, the end user, where PAYE deductions are required. For more information and to book your place, click here.