Now that Boris Johnson has put his lockdown-busting partying behind him and just wants to “get on with delivering”, perhaps he and his Government will use next week’s Queen’s Speech to finally start delivering on some of their many outstanding promises to enhance workers’ rights.
We’ve known for some weeks that the Queen’s Speech is unlikely to include the repeatedly promised ‘Big Bus’ Employment Bill but, as noted previously on this blog, that doesn’t necessarily preclude there being one or more smaller legislative vehicles delivering some of these outstanding policy pledges. Because, as the following chart shows, some of these policy pledges have been outstanding for some considerable time.
In November 2017, then BEIS minister Margot James promised the Women & Equalities Committee of MPs that BEIS would complete an evaluation of the Shared Parental Leave scheme – introduced in 2015 and already known to be failing – in 2018. That evaluation was underway by 26 April 2018 but, four years on, it is still stuck in the bowels of BEIS. Presumably, officials with wet towels wrapped around their heads are working night and day to come up with a form of words that convincingly presents a woeful take-up rate of just 2% as ‘broadly in line with our target of 25%’.
In February 2018, in its response to the July 2017 Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, the Government pledged to tackle the blight of zero-hours contracts and other insecure work by introducing a right to request a more predictable and secure contract. This pledge was then repeated in the Conservative manifesto (see pp 37-39) for the December 2019 general election, and in the subsequent Queen’s Speech as part of the promised Employment Bill (see pp 43-44).
In October 2018, following an evidence-gathering and consultation process kicked off by his predecessor Sajid Javid as long ago as August 2015, then business secretary Greg Clark promised new legislation to ensure tips go to workers in full. This pledge was then repeated in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech, as part of the promised Employment Bill, and was bigged up by BEIS minister Paul Scully as recently as September 2021.
In December 2018, the Government’s Good Work Plan included a promise to legislate to improve the clarity of the employment status tests (a need identified by the 2017 Taylor Review). And it reiterated the February 2018 promise to “legislate to give all workers the right to request a more stable contract”.
In July 2019, in direct response to the 2016 findings of the Equality & Human Rights Commission’s landmark investigation into pregnancy & maternity discrimination in the workplace, and an August 2016 recommendation of the Women & Equalities Committee of MPs, the Government pledged to extend the period covered by the existing redundancy protections. In 2021, both the Women & Equalities Committee and the Petitions Committee urged ministers to get on with implementing this outstanding policy commitment. However, Maternity Action, the TUC, Maria Miller MP and others have repeatedly suggested that more fundamental reform is needed.
At the same time, the Government committed to establishing a Taskforce of employer and family representative groups to develop an Action Plan to make it easier for pregnant women and new mothers to stay in work. No such Taskforce has been established, but in the summer of 2021 BEIS established a Pregnancy & Maternity Discrimination Advisory Board to “consider the information and guidance available on pregnancy and maternity discrimination, to ensure it continues to be relevant and is effective in supporting employers and employees”. Intended to meet “on a quarterly basis until March 2023”, to date the Board has met only once, on 23 September 2021, and in March 2022 the campaign group Maternity Action – winners of the 2022 Halsbury Award for Rule of Law – were banned from further attendance by a senior BEIS official.
In December 2019, the Conservative general election manifesto (see pp 37-39) promised a consultation on making flexible working the default, and falsely claimed that the Government has already acted on the (still outstanding) July 2019 pledge to reform redundancy protections. The flexible working consultation was eventually held between 23 September and 1 December 2021, but it was clear from the consultation document that the Government has abandoned any idea of making flexible working the default.
The general election manifesto also promised the creation of a single enforcement body (to “crack down on any employer abusing employment law”), repeated the February 2018 pledge to introduce a right to request a more predictable and stable contract, pledged a new right to one week of (unpaid) carer’s leave, and promised legislation to introduce neonatal leave and pay. All four of these pledges were then repeated in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech, as part of the promised Employment Bill (see pp 43-44).
The pledge to introduce neonatal leave and pay was later reaffirmed in the Government’s March 2020 consultation response (and explicitly funded in the March 2020 Budget), and the promise to create a new right to one week – one week! – of unpaid carer’s leave was reaffirmed in the Government’s September 2021 consultation response.
The December 2019 general election manifesto also committed the Government to “look at ways to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave”. However, there is no evidence of ministers or officials having done any such ‘looking’ since 2019, and certainly no policy proposals have been forthcoming.
In July 2021, a Government Equalities Office consultation on sexual harassment concluded with the Government committing to “introduce a duty requiring employers to prevent sexual harassment” in their workplaces, along with explicit protections from third-party harassment.
Boris Johnson does indeed need to get on with delivering. And, as the Times reported yesterday, those ‘smaller legislative vehicles’ to deliver (some of) the outstanding policy commitments that would have been in the now shelved Employment Bill don’t need to be government bills. They could be Government-backed Private Members’ Bills, conveniently endorsed by one or more of the ‘parrots in the echo chamber’ (© Barbara Keeley) of the above-mentioned BEIS Advisory Board on Pregnancy & Maternity Discrimination, from which BEIS has otherwise inexplicably expelled the incompliant Maternity Action.