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New Prime Minister, New Employment Rights?
Liz Truss was appointed Prime Minister on 6 September 2022 following a campaign which consisted of a reported 147 separate policy pledges covering issues such a tax, energy and employment. However, these policy pledges (and the scrutiny of them) were understandably put to one side following the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II and the period of national mourning which followed.
Now the new PM’s policies will return to the political microscope and the key question for employers will be what changes we can expect to see in Employment Law following her appointment. We await whether there will be the “bonfire” of EU employment rights which was promised by many as part of the Brexit campaign – but which did not materialise in practice under a Boris Johnson led government.
Here are the matters that we believe employers should look out for from a Liz Truss government immediately and in the longer term:
Curtailing of the right to strike?
This is perhaps the most immediate work matter as the country faces the potential of ongoing and fresh strikes and industrial action from workers facing the cost of living squeeze. Liz Truss has pledged to make significant changes to legislation in her first month of office to reduce the threat of industrial action. This legislation could include changing balloting and voting thresholds to make it more difficult for unions to obtain the necessary mandate to strike within the legal framework as well as increasing the notice period for strike action from two weeks to four weeks. Other steps could include putting additional protection in place to prevent or restrict strike action in public services and national infrastructure such as the railways and health service. A key question is whether Liz Truss and the government will follow through with such politically charged changes and risk going “head-to-head” with the trade unions and workers?
Working Time Regulations
The Working Time Regulations in the UK derive from EU law. Following Brexit, the UK is no longer bound to follow EU laws so there is the potential for the UK to make changes to these worker protections which provide minimum periods of leave and rest breaks etc. However, as the Working Time Regulations are now embedded within UK employment culture and, importantly, are also connected with health and safety at work we don’t expect to see any fundamental changes to these working time rules. There may, in due course, be some “tinkering” in terms of complex areas such as calculation of holiday pay.
When Liz Truss was Minister for Women and Equalities, she promoted the idea of the UK taking a different approach to dealing with equality law. Her view was noted as seeking a move away from focusing on protecting single protected characteristics which we currently have set within the Equality Act 2010 (e.g. protection on the basis of race, sex, disability etc.). Whilst in that role she had said that there should be fair treatment for all including protection based upon geographical inequality and to encourage social mobility. We don’t expect to see dramatic changes to equality legislation in the short term and indeed legislating for broader groups based on location or perceived social status may prove extremely difficult in practice.
During her leadership campaign, Liz Truss promised to review the rules regarding off-payroll working (known as IR35). Her view during interviews was that there was an unfairness apparent in taxing contractors as akin to employees, but not conferring on them the same benefits that an employee receives (notably the right to annual leave). It is yet to be seen in what form this review will take and how it will balance the criticisms of the current regime with the regime’s intention to ensure that the correct tax is properly paid.