Yesterday, the Government marked the opening of a new parliamentary session with the traditional reading of a Queen’s Speech, albeit delivered by Prince Charles in her absence.
The speech, presented by the sitting Government, spoke of rectifying financial challenges, post-Brexit trade agreements and ‘levelling up’. However, there were several notable absences, which many within the people function may find worrying.
The most notable of these absences was the omission of measures to improve the rights of workers – an element that many had expected to feature having been first announced by the Government back in 2019. These new measures looked to sure up the right for flexible working, protections against pregnancy discrimination and the rights for customer facing staff in hospitality and service industry roles to keep tips given to them by customers.
Why was the omittance of the bill bad for HR?
In essence, by delaying the bill for a second year, the Government is downplaying the severity of the issues addressed in the legislation. Many, such as TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, have noted that these vital legal alterations may now never come into force. She publicly agrgued that the Government had effectively 'turned its back' on workers by delaying the bill.
“Today, bad bosses up and down the country will be celebrating,” she said in a statement released by the TUC. “No employment bill means vital rights that ministers had promised – like default flexible working, fair tips and protection from pregnancy discrimination – risk being ditched for good.
“And it means no action on the scourge of insecure work and ending exploitative practices like zero-hours contracts and fire and rehire. After the P&O scandal, dragging our outdated labour laws into the 21st century has never been more urgent.”
‘Workers are suffering’
Similarly, Unite General Secretary, Sharon Graham, noted that the decision to shelf the bill for this parliamentary session threatens the financial and mental wellbeing of workers who are currently struggling under the weight of the financial crisis.
“Workers and communities are suffering. We are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis and a recession is looming. So where is the programme to address these issues head on? Where are the laws to stop profiteering and prevent attacks on workers? Where is the help for the millions who are already faced with the shocking decision of whether to heat or eat?”
She added: “We are hearing lots of talk, but that is all it is – talk, not action. This is why voters look at Westminster and despair and it has to change. Unite will remain focused on protecting jobs, raising pay and improving lives, and I am determined that we will wake up Westminster in the process.”
‘Default’ right to work from home?
One of the key elements expected to appear in the bill included amendments to legislations concerning when and where people work. Many anticipated the introduction of a default right to work from home. Whilst this controversial legislation has been scrapped, at least for the time being, employers who have concluded that remote working was indeed an ‘aberration’, as famously stated by Goldman Sachs CEO, David Solomon, may wish to reconsider regardless of the Government’s stance.
It seems that workers are not waiting for the legal right to work remotely; many are voting with their feet. This is according to research released this month from Owl Labs, who polled over 2,000 full time UK employees and discovered that over a third of UK employees would decline a job if flexible hours are not offered to them and just over a third would decline a job if they were not given flexibility over their working location.
The news is acutely important, considering that the 'Great Resignation' is far from over. In fact, the data found that a massive one in four UK employees are actively seeking a new opportunity in 2022.
What WAS in the Queen’s Speech?
Whilst John Harding, Head of Employment Tax at PwC UK, stated his belief that the current lack of urgency on the bill from the Government ‘left employers and employees in limbo’, he did state that the Queen's Speech was ‘not devoid of content in relation to employment rights’.
Following uproar as a result of the P&O scandal, it seems that the Government has confirmed its intention to introduce legislation that will ensure that seafarers working aboard vessels visiting UK ports be paid not less than the national minimum wage, by ensuring that ports have powers to refuse access to ferry services that do not pay an equivalent of the NMW to seafarers while in UK waters.
Elsewhere, the Government also repeated its commitment to review the Apprenticeship Levy, including whether it is doing enough to incentivise businesses to invest in the right kinds of training.