5 year plan: What this Conservative Government may bring

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In this edition of the Muckle Employment Team’s eNews we have focused on what the next five years of a Conservative government may bring for employers and employees alike.  We will of course keep a watchful eye on these matters and let you know if/when there are any changes.

Please contact any one of the team on 0191 211 7777 if you have questions.

Gender Pay Gap

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 (Act) obliges the Government to make regulations requiring employers with at least 250 employees to publish information about their gender pay gap within 12 months of the Act coming into force. No regulations have yet been made but, given the Act received Royal Assent on 26 March 2015, they will need to be made by Spring 2016. If the regulations follow the format expected, they would require all private and voluntary sector employers with over 250 employees to publish pay information annually for the purpose of showing whether there are differences in the pay of male and female employees or face a fine of up to £5,000 for non-compliance. The Act provides that the Secretary of State must consult on the details of the reporting requirements before regulations are published, so employers should have advance notification and the chance to input.

Exclusivity Clauses

The provision within the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 rendering exclusivity clauses in zero hour contracts unenforceable came into force on 26 May 2015. If you operate such contracts you should be aware of this change and amend, if necessary, such contracts going forward.

Battles with the Unions?

The Conservative Party had indicated (at different times prior to the election) the desire to address a number of issues which are union related. The newly appointed business secretary, Sajid Javid, has since confirmed plans to make “significant changes” to strike laws.

For example:

  • A repeal of Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2013 which currently prevents an employment business from supplying agency workers to cover duties normally performed by workers who have taken official industrial action;
  • A ballot will only be able to authorise industrial action if at least 50% of the union membership has turned out to vote;
  • Any strike ballot in respect of a ‘core’ public service would need to have the support of 40% of the unions eligible membership (not a simple majority of those voting as it current is);
  • A strike would need to take place within three months of the ballot;
  • Criminalising some forms of extreme picketing; and
  • Giving a legal footing to the current Code of Practice on Picketing.

Public Sector impact

Prior to the election the Conservative Party proposed a £95,000 cap on redundancy payments within the public sector and the recovery of such payments when a dismissed employee was reemployed in the public sector within 12 months. The recovery provisions are already contained within the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 but have yet to be enacted.

Volunteering

The Conservative Party has a policy of wanting to introduce three paid volunteering days for all employees in the public sector which would also extend to those for private sector employers with over 250 employees. Such a change would be achieved through an amendment of the Working Time Regulations. It is estimated that this would entitle in the region of 15 million employees to paid leave to undertake voluntary work, when implemented.

Apprenticeships

The Conservative Party has pledged to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and to give apprentices access to educational loans. This target was restated in the Queen’s speech and ministers will be obliged to report annually on progress.

Europe

Much has been written about a review of our relationship with the European Union which may impact upon some aspects of employment and social policy. Quite what this means exactly is unclear – we may have to wait until after the promised referendum predicted for 2017! One can only imagine the complexity of disentangling EU law from our jurisdiction.

Human Rights

The Conservative Party has expressed a wish to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 (replacing it with a Bill of Rights) and withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights of Strasburg. The stated intention behind this is to make the UK courts the ultimate arbiter on human rights issues in the UK but this issue was not specifically addressed in the recent Queen’s Speech so what this means in practice remains to be seen.

Tax and Pay

We can expect a few changes here. For example we may see an above inflation increase to the threshold for the higher rate of income tax (taking it to £50,000 instead of £42,385) and an increase to £12,500 by 2020 in respect of the tax free personal allowance.

The NMW will also increase. Accepting the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission the NMW is on course to increase to over £8 per hour by 2020.

The Government will also encourage the payment of the living wage.

Tribunal Fees

There is widespread recognition amongst lawyers that the introduction of tribunal fees has dramatically reduced the number of employment claims. However, if the aim (or part of it) was to remove vexatious/unreasonable claims this does not appear to be reflected in the statistics which indicate that the success rates following full hearings remain almost the same.

Instead, it might indicate that only those that can afford the fees bring claims. There is a feeling that the current fee regime is a barrier to access to justice and is not justifiable.

The Government support the retention of fees, subject to Unison’s judicial review on fees which is due to be heard in mid-June.

Watch this space (and our LinkedIn group) for more news.

Training

Back by popular demand we have new dates available for our Back to Basics course for schools.

Accredited under NCFE’s Investing in Quality Licence, this 2 day course provides practical advice on how to identify and deal with common employment issues throughout the employment relationship.

This course is ideally suited to all Business Managers, Bursars or members of the senior leadership team.

Please click on the following links to view more detail and register:

Events

We have now released dates for our ever popular Employment Law Update 2015. This is a free update on  key employment law developments this year, plus a look forward to future changes and challenges.

Remember Mi Shield and Mi Staff clients are guaranteed up to 2 places at these sessions.

Please click on the following links to view more detail and register:

If you have any questions on the above please contact Tim Davies on 0191 211 7927 or email [email protected] anyone from our Employment team on 0191 211 7777.