The Government has now offered an explanation for the absence of an Employment Bill in the 2021 Queen’s Speech. In a response to a letter from the Chairs of the Work and Pensions and BEIS Committees, the BEIS Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said that the Bill will be brought forward when the “time is right” and “not while the pandemic is ongoing and continuing to affect the economy and the labour market in some unpredictable ways”.
In the December 2019 Queen’s Speech, the Government announced that it would introduce a new Employment Bill. One of the Bill’s main purposes was to “build on existing employment law with measures that protect those in low-paid work and the gig economy”. No such Bill was published in the 2019/2021 parliamentary session, though it was widely expected that it would be carried forward into the 2021/2022 session.
However, there was no mention of plans for an Employment Bill in the 2021 Queen’s Speech. It did however include some employment-related announcements, including a commitment to respond “in due course” to the report of the Commission for Racial and Ethnic Disparities, which was published on 31 March.
There are some other recent clues about the Government’s current plans for employment law reform.
Most recently, on 8 June, the Government launched its response to the 2019 consultation on the establishment of a new single body to enforce core employment rights. This will require primary legislation, which will be brought forward “when parliamentary time allows".
A few weeks earlier, on 14 May, the Government published its response to the Women and Equalities Committee report on the gendered impact of Covid. This response confirms that the Government is committed to consulting on how to make “flexible working the default unless employers have good reasons not to”. It also reiterates its previous promise to extend the redundancy protection afforded to mothers. Measures will be brought forward “as soon as parliamentary time allows” to extend exiting protection (which runs during maternity leave) to pregnant women and for six months after a mother has returned to work. This will also apply to those taking adoption leave and shared parental leave.