Absence of a jobs bill, a major oversight

Westminster’s refusal to overhaul employment law risks reversing employee welfare gains, writes Betsy Williamson:

THE RECENT Queen’s Speech, historic in itself with Her Majesty’s absence from the official opening of Parliament for the first time in 59 years, contained 38 new laws but also lacked the promised Jobs Bill since a long time.

First proposed in 2019 and presented when parliamentary time permitted, Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided now was not the time to bother his government with trivial issues such as improving the lot of working people.

Instead, time was spent targeting so-called disruptive eco-warriors in a public order bill, forcing the privatization of Channel 4, a ‘race to the top’ bill that promises that people can have “more say in changing street names”, and an Animal Welfare Bill to introduce new ways to combat pet abduction and puppy trafficking.

The shelved bill was to include a number of measures strengthening workers’ rights. Although discussed before the pandemic, some of the issues to be addressed have become more relevant than ever.

This included a proposal to create a one-state enforcement agency that would be responsible for enforcing minimum wage requirements – which may have helped ease the concerns of those most affected by the crisis over the cost of life.

Another casualty has been moves to ensure employers pass on tips to staff transparently and without any deductions, while the proposed right for those who work flextime to be able to secure a stable contract after working for 26 weeks also disappeared.

This government’s view of flexible working is becoming even stronger. It still takes 26 weeks of service before an application has to be considered by an employer, rather than the default offer of this right from the first day of employment.

And pregnancy discrimination at work has not been addressed, with plans to extend dismissal protection to pregnant women facing the same fate as proposals for a week’s leave for unpaid carers and paid leave for parents of children requiring neonatal care.

It is now up to responsible and informed employers to think about the measures they can put in place to ensure the retention of their employees and make their organizations more attractive in terms of recruitment in a context of skills shortages and increased employee mobility.

It’s not purely altruism. In today’s job market, companies need to ensure that staff are properly supported and feel valued for their contribution to the success of the business or else they will vote with their feet and take leave.

Morally, employers have an obligation to do better than government in ensuring that the most vulnerable groups in society are not unfairly disadvantaged.

Flexible or hybrid working is here to stay and, regardless of its absence from legislation, employers who fail to master this common requirement put themselves at a competitive disadvantage in being positioned to recruit the best talent available.

And improving protection for staff on maternity leave and other leave entitlements separates the informed employer from the masses – and sends a strong signal that an organization cares about its staff from cradle to grave.

The jobs bill is on the back burner, but these changes are coming and smart employers can get ahead of the game by adopting a positive attitude to support staff and, therefore, retain valuable employees.

Betsy Williamson is the founder of leading Scottish recruitment firm Core-Asset Consulting.

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