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The Queen’s Speech 2013

The Queen’s Speech was delivered on 8 May 2013 and set out to the government’s plans to make changes which have implications for employment law. Among the plans are changes relating to National Insurance contributions, immigrant workers and the Employment Tribunal’s power to make wider recommendations in discrimination claims under the Equality Act 2010. The implications for discrimination claims are potentially wide reaching. The government has indicated that it intends to abolish the discrimination questionnaire procedure. This is a means by which a prospective claimant can request information from the employer in order to assist in establishing whether or not they have a claim for discrimination. A tribunal cannot order an employer to reply to questions asked under the statutory procedure; however, it may draw any inference where the employer has failed to answer a question within the prescribed eight-week period or, the employer’s answer to any question is evasive or equivocal. A debate in the House of Lords on 14 January 2013 referred to the government’s so-called Red Tape Challenge and in specific consultation on questionnaires around 80% of those responding to the consultation opposed abolition of the questionnaire procedure. Despite this, it is likely that the abolition of discrimination questionnaires would come into effect in October 2013 or April 2014. The government’s argument for appealing the questionnaire procedure includes the fact that employers see no value in them, that collating the information is onerous for employers and that ACAS should be used instead in order to give the parties a better understanding of the employment tribunal process. The government has also indicated that it would remove the power of employment tribunals to make wider recommendations benefiting not just the claimant in a case but also the wider work force. Claimants in discrimination cases can quite often request that an employment tribunal orders the employer to engage in equality training or appoint an equality expert to prevent further breaches of the legislation. The employment tribunal can order an employer to engage in management training but that is as far as its power appears to extend at the current time. The DeregulationBill is intended to remove the power for employment tribunals to make wider recommendations. We would be interested to know whether you think this is a good thing or whether this is in fact a denigration of important employment rights. The Immigration Bill will enable ‘tough action’ against businesses that use illegal labour, including more substantial fines. There have been a number of publicised cases dealing with illegal immigrant labour which have focused largely upon the apparent abuses that this can cause. This also impacts upon issues concerning the national minimum wage. It is important to bear in mind that a national minimum wage complaint can extend over the entire duration of a worker’s employment. The National Insurance Contributions Bill aims to reduce the cost of employment and to support small businesses in a difficult economic climate. The Bill will reduce employer National Insurance contributions each year by entitling every business to a £2,000.00 Employment Allowance. This will commence from April 2014. The Bill also intends to strengthen legislation to prevent the use of offshore employment payroll companies. The Queen’s Speed builds upon the 2013 Budget in which we have been interesting developments in employee shareholder status and employee ownership. We are not sure how the employee shareholder status provisions will work in practice. The idea is that the employer will ‘buy-out’ the employee’s employment rights at the start of their employment for £2,000.00. Employees will have the right to take legal advice for which their employer must pay. We are doubtful whether there will be much take-up of shareholder status and whether employees will consider £2,000.00 as adequate consideration for giving up potentially considerable employment rights. Phase two of the Red Tape Challenge is due to start in the summer. This is a wide-ranging projectaimed atidentifying unnecessary regulation. This is nothing new and is a feature of each successive government although the Coalition has proposed (and in the case of the two year limitation period for unfair dismissal claims – re-introduced) some drastic measures in the employment law field. Should you have any questions concerning forthcoming legislative changes then please contact us. We are always interested to hear your views.