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14 December 2018

137: And finally a look forward to what’s happening in employment news for January 2019

The Government has published the ‘2018 UK Annual Report on Modern Slavery’ which details the actions taken to tackle modern slavery over the last 12 months. The report states that total Government spending on modern slavery has risen from around £39 million in 2017/18 to £61 million in 2018/19, mainly due to an increase in the UK’s international activity. 6,837 potential victims of modern slavery were identified in 2017 and police in England and Wales recorded 3,337 modern slavery offences in the year to March 2018, a 49% increase on the previous year. Around 60% of employers in scope have published modern slavery statements, with many changing their business practices to reduce risk. The Government intends to write directly to the Chief Executives of companies who have failed to comply with their reporting obligations. It has also set up a ‘Tackling Modern Slavery in Supply Chains’ group to focus on business compliance and share best practice. A separate independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, due to report in March 2019, aims to identify which areas of the Act are working well and which provisions need strengthening.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has begun formal enforcement action against organisations in the public and private sector that have failed to pay the new data protection fee. This fee came into force on 25 May 2018, replacing the need to notify or register with the ICO, and is payable by most organisations that process personal data. There are three fee tiers based on size, turnover and whether an organisation is a public authority or charity, ranging from £2,900 for the largest organisations to £35 for the smallest. Failure to pay the data protection fee is a civil offence under the Data Protection Act 2018 and could result in a fine of £400 to £4,350, depending on size, turnover and any aggravating factors.

The Government has published a consultation on mandatory ethnicity pay reporting for employers. This follows on from the 2017 review by Baroness McGregor-Smith, ‘Race in the Workplace’, which recommended introducing a mandatory reporting duty. The Government’s response to her review was to encourage voluntary reporting and monitor progress. Given that this voluntary approach has resulted in only limited progress, as confirmed by a one-year-on review, the Government now intends to require employers with at least 250 employees to publish ethnicity pay data. Its consultation sets out options on how ethnicity pay information should be reported (for example, one pay gap figure or information by pay band or quartile); what contextual information should be included; who should be expected to report; and how ethnicity should be classified. Responses must be submitted by 11 January 2019. Alongside this consultation, the Government has launched a new ‘Race at Work Charter’ to recognise companies which sign up to five action points in the McGregor-Smith review, including appointing an executive sponsor for race, capturing data and publishing progress, and taking action to support the career progression of BAME staff.

The Government has announced new measures to support workers. New legislation will be introduced at the earliest opportunity to ensure that tips go to the worker who has provided the service. Consideration will also be given to creating a duty on employers to consider whether a job can be done flexibly, and to make this clear when advertising a job. The Government also proposes to consult on requiring employers with more than 250 staff to publish their parental leave and pay policies to avoid job applicants having to ask employers to establish what their position is.

According to the Treasury, as many as a third of those claiming to be self-employed as a personal service company are actually full-time workers, and non-compliance may be costing HMRC up to £1.2 billion a year. The Autumn Budget included the widely-anticipated announcement that IR35 public sector reform will be extended to the private sector. This means that organisations which use personal service companies will be responsible for determining a contractor’s tax status and for deducting PAYE and NICs at source if IR35 applies. Consultation will be published in due course to help clarify the details of the new rules. The changes will not be introduced until April 2020 in order to give businesses time to prepare. HMRC has also acknowledged that its online Check Employment Status for Tax tool needs to be refined, for example, to include a greater emphasis on mutuality of obligation and to clarify the terminology used.

The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) is to increase from £200 to £400 per year from December 2018. The IHS allows non-EEA and non-Swiss nationals on a work, study or family visa for longer than six months to access NHS services in the same way as UK citizens. Students and those on the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme will be required to pay the discounted rate of £300 a year (currently £150). The IHS must be paid for the whole period covered by the visa, regardless of whether private medical insurance cover is also held. According to the Government, this increase will mean that the IHS will better reflect the cost to the NHS of treating those who are required to pay it.

On 11 October 2018, the Government published ‘Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules: HC1534’. This sets out various procedural improvements for visa applications, including: allowing mistakes to be rectified which may otherwise have led to automatic rejection; allowing points-based system applicants to submit copies of supporting documents rather than originals unless requested for verification purposes; enabling EU nationals and their family members to apply for an administrative review if their application under the EU Settlement Scheme is refused on grounds of eligibility; and giving Home Office officials greater scope to request documentation which is missing from an application before refusing it.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) has published a summary of the gender pay gap information reported since the Gender Pay Gap Information Regulations 2017 came into force, together with findings from related research conducted by the GEO. Key findings include:

  • as at August 2018, 100% of employers had complied with the Regulations. 281 employers that were not in scope for the Regulations also opted in to reporting their gender pay gap data;
  • as at May 2018, 48% of employers had published an action plan outlining how they intend to tackle their gender pay gap;
  • employers reported some difficulty collating the data required, but most found it easy to register and input data on the reporting website;
  • 40% of employers said it had been ‘very easy’ or ‘easy’ to make the gender pay gap calculations, while 17% said it had been ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’; and
  • 57% of employers have more women than men among their lowest paid employees, whereas 33% have more women than men among their highest paid employees.
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