Irwin Mitchell | Employment Law Update | Queen’s Speech and the Conservative employment agenda

Queen’s Speech and the Conservative employment agenda

The new Government has announced that it intends to push ahead with its election pledges on strike reform and public sector exit payments, but its controversial plans to scrap the Human Rights Act have been put on the back burner for now and will be subject to consultation and review.

Strike reforms

The Government plans to weaken the power of the unions to call strike action and will introduce legislation to include:

  • A minimum 50% turnout threshold of all those entitled to take part in ballots on industrial action for strikes in core public services (health, education, transport & fire services). Currently balloting rules do not require any specific level of participation by union members.
  • 40% of those entitled to vote must vote in favour of strike action.
  • In addition 51% or more of those who actually vote must have voted in favour of the strike action. 
  • Removal of restrictions on using temporary workers to cover for striking staff.
  • Tightening rules on ballot mandates. This would prevent unions undertaking action based on historic strike ballots
  • Criminalising certain types of picketing to tackling the intimidation of non-striking workers

It is widely recognised that the UK has some of the toughest strike laws in the EU and, unions have argued that these changes, if enacted, will offend the human rights principle that workers have the right to withdraw their labour.

Public sector termination payments

The Government has pledged to end large tax payer funded settlements and introduce legislation requiring certain public sector workers to repay exit payments if they are re-employed in the public sector within a certain period. No detail has been provided, but previously, it has been suggested that the cap will be around £95,000 for enhanced redundancy payments.

Proposal for a Bill of Rights

The post-election pledge to produce a draft bill within 100 days appears to have been dropped. Instead, the Government has indicated that it will do so within the next 12 months, after a period of consultation and (hopefully reflection) has taken place.

Other changes

During the election campaign, the Conservatives pledged to introduce a number of additional changes which were not mentioned during the Queens Speech.

These include:

  1. Equal pay audits - The Government said that it will implement the provision in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act (which was passed shortly before the election) that requires employers with at least 250 employees to publish information about their gender pay gap. No additional information is available and it is not yet known whether the 250 employee threshold will apply to group companies, but we would be surprised if it did.
  2. Paid volunteering leave – The Government said it will make volunteering for 3 days a year a workplace entitlement for people working in large companies employing more than 250 employees and the public sector.
  3. Apprenticeships – The Government pledged to create an extra 3 million apprenticeships over the next 5 years.