In the 2019 Queen's Speech, the government promised workers an employment bill supposedly to “protect and enhance workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU, making Britain the best place in the world to work”.
The bill was also supposed to:
- “Promote fairness in the workplace, striking the right balance between the flexibility that the economy needs and the security that workers deserve”
- “Strengthen workers’ ability to get redress for poor treatment by creating a new, single enforcement body”
- “Offer greater protections for workers by prioritising fairness in the workplace, and introducing better support for working families”
- “Build on existing employment law with measures that protect those in low-paid work and the gig economy”.
The 'main benefits' of the bill included:
- “Better support for working families and workplace participation for all, alongside establishing a new £1 billion fund to help create more high-quality childcare”
- “Encouraging flexible working, ensuring that both employers and employees get the maximum benefit from flexible working”.
The bill would, it was promised, include the following main elements:
- “Creating a new single enforcement body, offering greater protection for workers”
- “Ensuring that tips left for workers go to them in full”
- “Introducing a new right for all workers to request a more predictable contract”
- “Extending redundancy protections to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination”
- “Allowing parents to take extended leave for neonatal care and an entitlement to one week’s leave for unpaid carers”
- “Subject to consultation, the bill will make flexible working the default unless employers have good reason not to”.
In June 2021, the government announced that it would introduce a new single enforcement body – but it didn’t say when. In September 2021, the government announced that there would be a new statutory Code of Practice to make it unlawful not to pass on tips to workers in full (some five years after the then Business Secretary Sajid Javid first promised to make it unlawful). Some additional childcare funding was announced in last month’s budget – but not the £1 billion promised.
Although flexible working is overwhelmingly popular among workers (weekly LELR 676), the government has so far limited itself to calling on employers to “normalise the option” for employees as part of the recovery plans from the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic (weekly LELR 712).
And despite a commitment to reform sick pay, the government also reneged on that promise earlier in the year, abandoning the insecure workers who are most likely to be refused sick pay or who are only entitled to such a miserable sum that they cannot afford to stay away from work.
Although the government backtracked on a post-Brexit review of workers’ rights earlier in the year, this followed a concerted campaign by unions and opposition parties highlighting the government’s intention to water down their rights, not enhance them, leading to another of their now infamous U-turns.
And still there is no employment bill. Indeed, the government removed a proposal for a bill from this year’s parliamentary agenda, which tells you all you need to know about the importance it attaches to ensuring improved rights for workers.
Contrast this approach with the government’s enthusiasm for pressing ahead with imposing more burdens on trade unions. It has now confirmed that it will implement the certification officer levy from April 2022 in ways that pass even more financial burden onto trade unions.
It has also announced that it will bring into force invasive new powers of investigation contained in the Trade Union Act 2016, from April 2022. This is a government which makes promises to workers it has no intention of keeping, while relishing the opportunity of increasing the burdens on the trade unions that protect them.
So, the question remains - where is the much-feted employment bill that we were all promised? It seems that the answer is in the same bin as so many other promises made – and later broken – by this government.