Following my articles on Income Tax, National Insurance, pensions and ‘other’, this article (leading up to the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019) looks at what the Conservative Party has pledged regarding employment / HR issues. Inevitably, these will impact employers and professionals from both the payroll and HR departments.

The biggest issue that the UK faces regarding changes to employment law is the fact that the matter is totally devolved to Northern Ireland.  Just because a law is intended for or applies in Great Britain is not an indication that it will apply this way in Northern Ireland.

A good example is the new right to Statutory Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay which will only apply in Great Britain – or, strictly, where the contract of employment is written under the Employment Rights Act 1996.

The fact that employment law is devolved to Northern Ireland (who do not have a Government at the moment) is not always recognised by professionals, let alone politicians!

Current Legislation

We have to be careful and watch for announcements.  Even if the planned change is to apply UK-wide, there is the very real possibility that it will take primary or amending legislation in both employment law jurisdictions of the UK.  Plus, this is complicated by the fact that legislation is not always made and passed at the same time.

Announcements and pledges are all well and good but it is legislation that makes it happen.  It is not always easy to keep track of legislation changes.

The Pledges

I detail the pledges (the formal promises) that the Conservatives made in their 2019 Manifesto:

Immigration and Brexit
  • As we prepare to leave the European Union (EU) and free movement comes to an end, one of the hot topics for employers is going to be the ‘Australian-style points-based system to control immigration’. There are few details on this but it is one to keep an eye on and needs to be in place for the start of 2021
  • The new system will mean that ‘Migrants will contribute to the NHS – and pay in before they can receive benefits’. This will have to be factored into secondment agreements in the future

There will be ‘special immigration routes for those who will make the biggest contribution’ and ‘bespoke visa schemes’ for certain professions.  There will, undoubtedly, be reciprocal arrangements from EU countries at the end of the 2020 transition period, after which the UK becomes a ‘third country’ in EU terms

Immigration and movement of staff will change and HR professionals are going to have to adapt to an issue that the new Government promises to ‘decide who comes to this country’.

The Union
  • The Manifesto talks of the strength of the ‘United Kingdom’s four nations’ and how a Conservative Government will ‘defend and protect our United Kingdom – the awesome foursome’. The rise of nationalism in the UK, particularly in Scotland, is one for employers and unionists in general to keep another watchful eye on
A New Statutory Body
  • As I pointed out in my ‘other payroll’ article, the Manifesto says ‘We will create a single enforcement body and crack down on any employer abusing employment law’. This is all to do with the body recommended by Mathew Taylor, on which the UK Government consulted  I cannot see that this can apply UK-wide but it is an important one to keep an eye on

Quite rightly, this is not so much the statutory payment that will be impacted but the employment right giving rise to it, which Taylor said employers were not always complying with.

Employment Rights

One of the biggest issues in 2020 and beyond is going to be the implications of Brexit.  The Manifesto and the new Government are clear that they will ‘end the role of the European Court of Justice’ who have been a significant voice for many years.

In addition:

  • Re children in care, the Manifesto says that adoption placements will be considered ‘where possible’. All I see here is a potential for the increase in Statutory Adoption Leave and Pay.  This is generally a devolved issue so may not apply UK-wide
  • We will legislate to allow parents to take extended leave for neonatal care’. This is another Mathew Taylor ‘Good Work’ recommendation.  A consultation took place earlier in 2019 about proposals for a new leave and pay entitlement for parents of babies that require neonatal care after birth.  This new statutory right will apply in Great Britain only
  • The Manifesto says ‘we will look at ways to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave’. This was part of the above consultation and we could see developments in this area, either with regards to the duration of leave or the rate of payment.  Again, I can only see that this will apply in Great Britain
  • We will also extend the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers’. Watch out for this one

I do not see that these things will come about immediately.  The new Government is intent on ‘getting Brexit done’ and I imagine that this will be the main focus of 2020.

However, the above issues may give rise to consultations.

Budget 2020

Payroll professionals will be listening intently to the announcement regarding tax, National Insurance, pensions and statutory payments (SSP, SMP etc).  There is also the increase to the National Minimum and Living Wage to consider.  I expect Brexit to be mentioned more than once but I cannot see that any of the above Manifesto promises will make an appearance in the Budget, except to say that these things are happening / will happen.

Another thing to watch for is any changes to apprenticeships in England.  This new regime, still in its infancy, has given rise to qualifications and training that employers need rather than qualifications and training that commercial organisations are capable of providing.  Any changes that revert to previous regimes needs to be looked at with scepticism.  Surely, HR and payroll professionals that are actually working for organisations are the best people to decide on what constitutes professional training and education.

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