183: And finally a look forward to what’s happening in employment news for August 2019
The Office for National Statistics has published its analysis of labour disputes for 2018. This shows that there were 273,000 working days lost due to labour disputes, the sixth lowest annual total since records began in 1981. Disputes over pay accounted for over half of the stoppages. There were 39,000 workers involved in labour disputes, the second lowest figure since records began in 1893. The education sector accounted for 66% of all working days lost, mainly due to disputes involving university employees. The number of working days lost in the public sector was 26,000, which is the lowest since records began in 1996. However, the number of working days lost in the private sector (246,000) was the largest since 1996. The region with the highest strike rate in 2018 was Scotland (23 working days lost per 1,000 employees), in contrast to 2017 when the highest strike rate was in London (28 working days lost per 1,000 employees).
The Low Pay Commission (LPC) has published a report, ‘Non-compliance and enforcement of the National Minimum Wage’, which looks at the most up-to-date statistical evidence on the extent of non-compliance and recommends improvements in the Government’s enforcement regime. The report highlights a trend of increasing underpayment since the introduction of the National Living Wage (NLW) in 2016. In April 2018, around 439,000 individuals were paid less than the hourly minimum wage, including 369,000 who were paid less than their entitlement to the NLW. This is an increase of around 30,000 on the previous year’s level of NLW underpayment. A higher proportion of women are underpaid the NLW than men, and the youngest and oldest NLW workers are more likely to be underpaid than other age groups. The largest numbers of underpaid individuals work in hospitality, retail, childcare, cleaning and maintenance. Compliance with the national minimum wage is enforced by HMRC. In 2017/18, the number of workers identified by HMRC as underpaid, the amount of arrears paid to workers, and the fines levied on non-compliant employers all increased considerably to reach record levels. The LPC report also recommends that the Government continues to invest strongly in raising awareness about the minimum wage and enforcement, and that methodologies for measuring the scale of underpayment and non-compliance are improved.
On 22 May 2019, the final report of the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was published. The review was commissioned by the Government in July 2018 in order to look into the operation and effectiveness of the Act and to suggest potential improvements, focusing on four main areas: transparency in supply chains; the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner; the Act’s legal application; and the safeguarding of child victims of modern slavery. The report highlights that the number of potential victims identified in the UK each year has more than doubled from 3266 in 2015 to 6993 in 2018. UK nationals now also represent the highest proportion of potential victims identified, at around a quarter of all those recorded. The review makes 80 recommendations for the Government to consider. These include recommendations that the topics to be included in the modern slavery statements should be mandatory, companies should not be able to state that they have taken no steps to address modern slavery in their supply chains as currently permitted; there should be a central repository for modern slavery statements; sanctions for non-compliance should be strengthened; the Government should bring forward proposals to create an enforcement body; and the failure to make a statement or to act when instances of slavery are found should be an offence under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.
On 21 May 2019, the Pregnancy and Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill 2017-2019 was introduced into Parliament under the Ten Minute Rule. This bill would prohibit employers from making employees redundant during pregnancy, maternity leave and for six months after the end of maternity leave. It would also extend protection to women who experience a stillbirth or miscarriage by protecting them for up to six months from the end of their pregnancy or any leave to which they were entitled. The bill goes further than the Government’s current proposals to extend redundancy protection for new mothers from the date they notify their employer in writing of their pregnancy to six months after their return from maternity leave. The Government’s proposals are based on extending the scope of existing protection, whereas the proposed bill is inspired by the German model where employers are unable to make a new or expectant mother redundant without the permission of a specific public authority, which is only given in exceptional circumstances. This is a private members bill, and so has only a small chance of being passed into law, but it does have cross-party support.
On 14 May 2019, the National Insurance Contributions (Termination Awards and Sporting Testimonials) Bill was agreed and now goes to the Commons Report stage. Currently, certain forms of termination awards are exempt from employee and employer National Insurance contributions and the first £30,000 is free from income tax. This bill will align the employer National Insurance (Class 1A) treatment of these payments in excess of £30,000 with their income tax treatment. The National Insurance treatment of income from sporting testimonials will also be aligned with their income tax treatment. Any income derived from termination awards or sporting testimonials will remain exempt from employee National Insurance. Although originally planned for April 2018, the Government has confirmed that these measures will now take effect from 6 April 2020.
HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) has published its response to the consultation, ‘Fit for the future: Transforming the Court and Tribunal estate’ issued in January 2018. The response details how strategic decisions on the future of courts and tribunals should be made, in the context of HMCTS’ £1 billion reform programme to improve accessibility and the availability of new technologies. The court estate principles have been updated as a result of responses to the consultation and now include seeking to ensure that journey times to courts and tribunals are reasonable; that buildings are well-maintained at a reasonable cost; and that there is provision for multi-jurisdictional centres providing flexible access for users, with a greater emphasis on technology. Although the response identifies that there will be less need for physical courtroom space in the future, there is a commitment not to propose further closures unless there is sound evidence that remote digital access is actually reducing the use of court buildings.