Earlier today, the Queen unveiled the government’s proposals for legislation on employment law for the next year. This year's Queen’s Speech is the last before the 2015 general election and includes a relatively light legislative programme of just 11 new bills.
So what do these Bills mean for employers?
The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill is intended to:
i. “Strengthen UK employment law by tackling National Minimum Wage abuses and cracking down on abuse in zero hours contracts”;
ii. “Stop highly paid public sector employees keeping redundancy payments when they come back to the same part of the public sector within a short period of time”. These measures are an overt attempt to end the “revolving door” culture of big pay offs for senior public servants; and
iii. “Reduce delays in Employment Tribunals”. There has been much early speculation amongst employment lawyers and commentators as to what is meant by this. Since Tribunal fees were introduced last year, there has been a huge drop in the number of claims. In March, the Ministry of Justice’s Tribunal Statistics Quarterly suggested that claims had dropped 79% year on year. What these purported delays therefore relate to is something of a mystery - there has been much debate, ranging from the introduction of an early sift stage to whether equal pay procedures are to be reformed, though anything of that magnitude seems unlikely at this stage.
The Private Pensions Bill introduces new “defined ambition” schemes and is intended to provide individuals with wider choice when investing in a pension. This will allow a number of employees to pay into the same scheme and share the risk.
As previously announced in the 2014 Budget, the Pension Tax Bill will allow employees aged 55 and over with defined contribution pensions to withdraw their savings as they wish. This reform breaks the reliance on buying annuities and is intended to give individuals greater control and access to their pensions.
The National Insurance Contributions Bill will simplify the way that national insurance contributions are collected from the self-employed. Targeted anti-avoidance rules will also be introduced to determine whether arrangements are designed to avoid or minimise national insurance payments.
The Modern Slavery Bill will consolidate the law on slavery and human trafficking by making the reporting of human trafficking a legal duty, introducing an Anti-Slavery Commissioner and increasing sentences for those found guilty of trafficking people into the country, often for prostitution or illicit work.
So, a mixed bag, with the most interesting scope for speculation around the tribunal delay issue. We shall wait and see.