Queen's Speech: focus on employment aspects

Yesterday’s Queen's speech includes a Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill in its list of legislation planned for the final session of this Parliament. The Prime Minister’s Press Office has produced 100 pages of background information, but little of substance on the employment content of this Bill.

The key elements are described as follows:

  • It will crack down on lengthy tribunal delays
  • It will also crack down on abuse in zero-hours contracts
  • Employers will face tougher penalties for not paying the National Minimum Wage
  • Steps will be taken to 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.

The impact of these changes is likely to be relatively minor compared to the employment measures that have already been implemented by this Government. There is no detail about how these steps will be taken, and plenty of scepticism about whether more legislation is really the answer, particularly with regard to zero-hours contracts.

It is probable that the proposed pensions changes, foreshadowed in this year’s budget announcements, will be far more significant. These controversial plans, described as the “centrepiece” of the Queen’s speech, are likely to have the most enduring impact in the HR context if they are implemented. Here is how they were billed yesterday:

“The reforms we plan will be the biggest transformation in our pensions system since its inception, and will give people both freedom and security in retirement. By no longer forcing people to buy an annuity, we are giving them total control over the money they have put aside over their lifetime and greater financial security in their old age. It’s all part of our wider mission to put power back in the hands of the people who have worked hard – trusting them to run their own lives. At the same time we’re completing sweeping reforms to workplace pensions to give employees more certainty about their income in retirement. Taken together, this is a revolution that matches our previous reforms to education and welfare in giving people opportunities they were previously denied.”

No doubt we will hear a lot more about these pensions proposals in the coming months. The plans (or lack of them) for zero-hours contracts are also likely to stimulate considerable public debate, even if the resulting legal changes turn out to be relatively insignificant.


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