Belinda’s Blog: Change of Government looming

Published on: 25th June 2024

The employment law landscape has been undergoing significant changes, many of which were in progress before the election was called on 22nd May. As you’re aware, under the Conservative government, numerous employment legislations were either implemented or in the pipeline, addressing issues from right-to-work rules to shared parental leave.

However, the calling of the election has brought uncertainty to several pending pieces of legislation. Here’s a summary of the situation:

The Wash Up Process: “The wash up” refers to the period when the government and opposition parties agree on essential legislative business to prioritise before Parliament dissolves for the election. This does not guarantee the passage of all proposed laws but increases their chances if there is broad political consensus.

Included in the wash were:
The Employment (Allocation of Tips) Act 2023: This act is expected to come into force on 1 October 2024, pending the approval of a code of practice.
The Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Act: This legislation aims to provide enhanced paternity leave rights for fathers of newborns whose partner dies. The specifics, including the start date, remain undetermined.
The Statutory Code on Fire and Rehire: Designed to offer guidance on managing or avoiding conflicts related to fire and rehire practices, this code seeks to provide pragmatic solutions for employers and employees.
Non-Disclosure Agreements: Part of the Prisoners and Victims Bill, this provision aims to ban NDAs where the disclosure pertains to criminal activity.

Several other employment law changes were being developed but did not make it into the wash up, rendering their future uncertain and subject to the priorities of the incoming government. These include:

Neonatal Leave and Pay: Proposals for additional leave and pay for parents of babies requiring neonatal care.
Right to Request a More Predictable Working Pattern: Measures to allow employees to request stable and predictable working hours.
• Limits on Post-Termination Restrictions: Potential limits on the length of non-compete clauses and other post-termination restrictions.
Changes to TUPE and European Works Councils: Revisions to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations and the role of European Works Councils post-Brexit

Future Prospects

If the Conservatives Win: There is a likelihood that these unfinished legislative pieces will be revisited and possibly expedited, given their alignment with the previous government’s agenda.

If Labour Wins: The new government may prioritise its manifesto commitments, which could result in a shift in focus away from the pending Conservative-driven employment laws.

Navigating Uncertainty: Given the uncertain political landscape and its impact on employment law, it is crucial for businesses to stay informed and prepared for potential changes.

What would national service mean for employers in practice?

The reintroduction of national service for 18-year-olds is a policy proposal that undoubtedly grabs attention. While compulsory military training and duties are common in numerous countries, and indeed were a part of British life during the early Cold War years, the idea is quite a cultural shock in the 2020s.
If the Conservatives were to lose the upcoming election, it is highly likely that this policy would never materialise. However, if it were to come to pass, what might it look like?

Potential Structure of the National Service
The proposal, as it stands, outlines two streams of service:

A Year of Solid Military Service: Participants would undergo a full year of military training and duties.
Community Service: Alternatively, participants could opt for community service, dedicating one weekend a month for 12 months. Given the limited details, a useful comparison might be the existing model for the Army Reserves.

Implications for Employers
Military Service Stream:

For those participating in the military service stream, the following could be expected, based on the Army Reserves model:

Unpaid Time Off: Employees would take unpaid leave from their civilian jobs, receiving payment from the Army instead.
Job Security: Participants would have the right to return to their job under the same terms and conditions once their service is complete. If their original role no longer exists, employers would be required to offer a reasonable alternative position. Employment protections could extend for a period after their return to civilian life.
Non-Compliance Penalties: Employers failing to comply with these requirements might face fines or compensation awards.

Community Service Stream: For the community service stream, the impact on employers might be less severe, given the part-time nature of the commitment.

Considerations for Businesses
For those employees who are 18 and yet to enter the workforce, the implications for employers are minimal. However, for those already employed, the following considerations are relevant:

State Compensation: Employers might receive compensation from the State for any costs incurred due to an employee’s service.
Business Impact: In cases where the absence of an employee severely impacts business operations, employers could potentially apply for a delay or cancellation of the employee’s service.

Hypothetical – but food for thought!

While this policy remains hypothetical, this outline provides a potential picture of its implications. Employers might need to prepare for such scenarios, ensuring they can navigate the logistical and financial impacts effectively.

The Changing Landscape of Trade Union Legislation how could they affect your business?

Over the past decade, Conservative employment legislation has steadily eroded the power of trade unions. However, if Labour comes into power, they promise to reverse many of these changes, ushering in a new era of trade union influence.

Labour’s Proposed Changes
Labour’s proposed changes are extensive and could significantly alter the current dynamics between employers and trade unions. Key areas of focus include:

Repealing the Trade Union Act 2016: This would remove the restrictions on industrial action imposed by the Act, potentially making it easier for unions to organize strikes and other forms of collective action.
Simplifying Trade Union Recognition: Labour aims to streamline the process for trade unions to gain official recognition, which could lead to an increase in unionized workplaces.
Introducing Sectoral Collective Bargaining: This would allow unions to negotiate pay and conditions across entire sectors, rather than on a company-by-company basis.
Enhancing Union Rights and Procedures: New rights and procedures would be established to facilitate trade unions in conducting their operations more effectively.

Potential Impacts on Businesses
Direct Impacts:

Increased Engagement with Trade Unions: Businesses that have not previously dealt with trade unions may find themselves negotiating on matters such as pay and disciplinary processes.
Access and Activity: Trade unions could gain greater access to workplaces, and employees may spend more time on union-related activities, impacting productivity.

Indirect Impacts:

• General Strike Action: Increased industrial action across various sectors could disrupt business operations. For example:
Transportation Strikes: Employees might struggle to get to work on time, affecting attendance and punctuality.
NHS Strikes: There could be an increase in sickness absence if healthcare services are disrupted.

Trade Union Membership Trends
Despite these potential changes, it’s important to note that trade union membership has been declining for decades, with less than a quarter of the workforce currently unionized. Whether Labour’s proposed legislative changes will significantly boost union membership remains to be seen.

Preparing for the Future
Businesses should stay informed and prepared for potential changes in trade union legislation. Understanding the implications of these changes will be crucial for navigating the evolving landscape of labour relations.

Preparing for Potential Labour Employment Legislation Changes
While nothing is set in stone yet, it is wise to take proactive steps to position your business for potential changes in employment legislation promised by Labour. Acting in key areas now could help you stay ahead of the game and mitigate future challenges.

Day One Rights for Workers
Labour has pledged to enhance workers’ rights from day one, including:

Protection from Unfair Dismissal: Labour aims to extend unfair dismissal protection to all employees from the start of their employment.
Extended Time Period for Tribunal Claims: The period for employees to bring tribunal claims might be extended.

Recommended Actions:

Staff Changes: Consider bringing forward any decisions regarding staff changes, especially for employees with less than two years of service. Acting now, while the current regulations are still in effect, could help you avoid complications if the law changes.

Company Reorganisations and Management Training: Preparing your company structure and management team for potential legislative changes is essential.

Company Reorganisations: Evaluate and, if necessary, implement any planned company reorganisations. Doing this in advance can help you navigate potential restrictions and new requirements that might come with Labour’s legislative changes.

Management Training: Invest in management training focused on compliance with potential new regulations, effective communication with employees, and managing relationships with trade unions.

 

Employment Contracts and Worker Status
Labour’s stance on zero-hour contracts and worker status suggests a shift towards more secure employment terms.
Recommended Actions:

Review Employment Contracts: Assess the types of contracts you offer to new recruits. Consider moving away from zero-hour contracts and towards more stable employment terms that comply with potential new regulations.
Clarify Worker Status: Ensure that the status of all workers (employee, worker, or self-employed) is clearly defined and compliant with current and potential future laws.

Staying Informed and Agile
• Finally, staying informed about legislative developments and being agile in your response will be crucial.

Recommended Actions:
Monitor Legislative Developments: Keep a close eye on the progress of Labour’s legislative proposals and other relevant employment law changes.
Seek Expert Advice: By taking these proactive steps, your business will be better positioned to navigate potential changes and continue to operate smoothly in the evolving landscape of employment legislation.

Strategic Planning for Businesses
As a business, it is crucial to plan for potential changes, but with a flexible approach. Here’s how you can prepare effectively:

Proactive Preparations
Employment Practices: Review and update employment contracts, particularly considering Labour’s stance on zero-hour contracts and worker status.
Management Training: Ensure your management team is prepared for potential changes in employee rights and trade union interactions.

Contingency Planning
Flexibility: Develop flexible strategies that can be adjusted as the political and economic landscape evolves.
Scenario Planning: Consider various scenarios based on different potential outcomes and plan accordingly.

Conclusion
While it is essential to prepare for potential legislative changes, it is equally important to remain adaptable. The political landscape can shift rapidly, and the promises made during the campaign may not always translate into immediate action. By staying informed and maintaining flexibility, your business can navigate these uncertainties effectively.

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