The State Opening of Parliament took place on 11 May 2021, marking the formal start of the parliamentary year. Those hoping that the Queen’s Speech would pave the way for a raft of long-awaited employment legislation were disappointed. The previously announced Employment Bill appears to have been removed indefinitely from the legislative agenda, and it seems that the courts will be the likely instigators of any change in the immediate future.
Back when the world was a very different place…when we would squash onto trains with coughing and sneezing strangers, face masks were for medics and not the weekly shop, we didn’t incessantly sanitise our hands, and we took it for granted that our children would go to school every day…Her Majesty The Queen addressed the Houses of Parliament. Her speech, in December 2019, set out the government’s agenda for the coming parliamentary session, outlining proposed policies and legislation. She emphasised that her government would bring forward measures “to support working families” and “to encourage flexible working”, and expressly referenced the proposed introduction of “entitlement to leave for unpaid carers”.
The briefing notes that accompanied the Queen’s 2019 Speech included more detail on a variety of measures to support workers and families, which were to be documented in an Employment Bill. These included:
- Introducing a new right for all workers to request a more predictable contract
- Extending redundancy protections to prevent pregnancy and maternity
- Allowing parents to take extended leave for neonatal care
- Introducing an entitlement to one week’s leave for unpaid carers
- Subject to consultation, making flexible working the default unless employers have good reason to oppose it
And then…the pandemic hit and the proposed Employment Bill seemingly disappeared into the abyss. On 23 March 2021, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was asked in Parliament about the timeframe for bringing forward the employment-related legislative proposals announced as part of the proposed Employment Bill. He confirmed that, although it was still the government’s intention to introduce an Employment Bill, it would not do so in this parliamentary session but instead in a later session when parliamentary time allows.
Tellingly, the Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2021 made no reference to an Employment Bill and there was no mention of any measures to support workers and families. We can, therefore, expect little legislative change in the sphere of employment rights over the coming months. The courts, on the other hand, may be a greater instigator of change, following in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent landmark decision identifying Uber drivers as workers and entitled to greater protections and rights.