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Ditching Employment Bill From Queen’s Speech Shows Boris Johnson “Has No Plan For Working People”, Critics Say

4 min read

Boris Johnson's decision to further delay planned legislation to improve workers’ rights post-Brexit has been heavily criticised by Labour, unions and business groups.

Labour have said this shows the government has “no plan” to tackle the issues facing working people after the Employment Bill was not included in today’s Queen’s Speech.

It was included in the last legislative programme Johnson's administration outlined after the 2019 general election, as he sought to allay fears that regulations would be watered down after the UK left the EU.

Downing Street said it was still on the cards and said they will bring in such a bill “when the time is right”, and blamed its omission from today’s legislative agenda on the impact of the pandemic on the labour market.

But the government has been strongly criticised by MPs and unions, who said Johnson has “rowed back on his promise” and called this a missed opportunity.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the Commons: “For too long, millions of people across Britain have been working longer and for lower pay.

“But where was the Employment Bill we were promised in the last Queen’s Speech, and repeatedly promised by Ministers? Nowhere to be seen.”

He said the legislation was needed to end the practice of “fire and rehire” and to give more protections to workers, as well as raise the Living Wage to at least £10 an hour.

Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow employment minister, said: “Every worker deserves fair pay, job security, safety, dignity at work and work-life-balance.

“The decision to ditch the Employment Bill shows the government has no plan to tackle worsening insecurity, low pay and the lack of protections for working people.”

The Prospect union said the bill's omission is a “missed opportunity to shape the Future of Work as the country emerges form the pandemic”, and it is “workers who will pay the price”.

“We are at a pivotal point in the future of work in the UK, with remote working set to increase exponentially post-pandemic, new practices such as remote surveillance affecting millions and a crisis in self-employment," Prospect General secretary Mike Clancy said.

“These new challenges require workers’ rights fit for the twenty first century, including new rights on flexible working and a Right to Disconnect from work.”

Kate Dearden from the Community union said Covid-19 has shown a new deal is needed for Britain’s workers, after the level of statutory sick pay was repeatedly criticised during the pandemic.

“It forces those who are sick to work, placing others at risk because they cannot afford to stay home,” she said. 

“In the UK, statutory sick pay is £96.35 a week. At the real living wage, a week’s pay for a full-time worker is £332.50.”

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said we “need action now to deal with the scourge of insecure work – not more dithering and delay”, while Warren Kenny, acting general secretary of the GMB union, said workers had been “fobbed off repeatedly” by ministers.

“Warm words on workers’ rights are betrayed by this government’s abject lack of leadership,” he said.

"This is an historic missed opportunity at a time when unscrupulous employers are exploiting the pandemic to attack good quality jobs.

Claire Walker, from the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “It is disappointing that new employment legislation that could address the flexibility of working practices did not feature.

"The pandemic has changed the way we work forever, and employers need clear guidance on how to provide long-term flexible working arrangements that will make jobs more accessible for everyone.” 

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation also added its voice to the criticisms. “The government has repeatedly committed to levelling up our country, but with one in eight workers trapped in poverty and many of them hardest hit by the pandemic, many will be in disbelief there was no bill to protect them announced today," director Helen Barnard said. 

Asked about the bill, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman reiterated the government's commitment to bring the bill forward at a later date. 

“Through this legislation we are determined to build a high-skilled, high-productivity, high-wage economy that delivers on our ambition to make the UK the best place to work and grow a business," they said. 

“We will introduce the Employment Bill when the time is right, given the profound effects the pandemic is having on the economy and the labour market.”

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