Employment news from the Queen's speech
9 May 2012
The Queen’s speech delivered this morning provides little new news for employers but, together with the accompanying press release from the Department of Business Information and Skills (“BIS”), provides some clarification as to what is on the Government’s legislative agenda.
Today's announcements include:
- A new system of parental leave so that “both parents may share parenting responsibilities and balance work and family commitments”.
- A new Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which will, amongst other things, “overhaul the employment tribunal system and transform the dispute resolution landscape” and “strengthen the framework for setting directors’ pay by introducing binding votes”.
The BIS announcement also refers to the fact that BIS will be introducing a Bill for "shared parental leave and flexible working" (our emphasis). There were plans to introduce a right for all employees to request flexible working in April 2011 but it was at that stage placed on the back burner amidst concerns of the increasing regulation on businesses. The reference in the BIS press release may simply be to the expressly announced proposals on shared parental leave which will bring increased flexibility for parents, but could also be a reference to an expanded right to request flexible working. We understand that the Government's response to the consultation on modern workplaces (which closed last year) will be published next week and may provide further clarification in this respect.
We will need to await the detail of the Government’s proposed new system of parental leave. In essence, the Government is proposing to increase the total leave parents can take on the birth or adoption of a child to 58 weeks – representing a combined 52 weeks leave to be shared between the mother and the father and an increased period of six weeks paternity leave at the start of the leave period.
This new system is not without controversy, potentially increasing the burden on businesses and potentially discouraging recruitment. Indeed, there was increasing media speculation over the last few days that it would not be included in today’s speech. We must therefore hope that the Government listens to the concerns and creates a system that is straightforward and can be easily administered.
Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill
Whilst the Government’s plans for overhauling the employment tribunal system are fairly advanced in light of the consultation on Resolving Workplace Disputes which closed last year, and are likely to include bringing in the proposed compulsory pre-conciliation period for Employment Tribunal claims and the introduction of fees for bringing Employment Tribunal claims, other measures are less so.
Whilst shareholder concerns over levels of executive pay is an issue which needs resolving, the Government will need time to consider the responses to its recent consultation on enhanced shareholder voting rights and executive pay.
References to transforming the dispute resolution landscape may well be references to the Government’s proposals for a compensated no fault dismissal for micro businesses (which is the subject of a current call for evidence from the Government - see our earlier alert here) and the introduction of “protected conversations” which would enable employers and employees to have full and frank discussions which could not be referred to in an Employment Tribunal. The Budget in April indicated that a consultation on the introduction of protected conversations would take place in the autumn.
Click here to view the full BIS press release.
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