Workers’ rights benefit from evolving employment laws

Tina Chander looks at important and upcoming employment law changes affecting agency, zero-hour and other atypical workers

Since 2010 the UK has experienced lower unemployment rates across every region, underpinned by a strong labour market that has seized on new opportunities.

Existing employment law and policy framework has found a balance between flexibility and worker protections, placing the education sector in a strong position to benefit from the new industrial revolution.

Out with the old, in with the new
The government unveiled its Good Work Plan in December 2018 as a direct, and carefully detailed, strategy to strengthen workers’ rights and change employment laws.

Labelled as ‘the biggest package of workplace reforms for over 20 years’, the plan builds on the Taylor Review recommendations of February 2018 and outlines an intention to improve conditions for agency, zero-hour and other atypical workers.

Within this plan the government commits to a wide range of policy and legislative changes, clarifying the relationship between employers and workers, while ensuring the enforcement system is fair and fit for purpose.

Requesting stable contracts
One of the main issues addressed is ‘one-sided flexibility’, which recognises that some organisations have transferred too much business risk to the individual, affecting their financial security and personal wellbeing. New legislation will give workers the right to request a more stable contract, allowing them to benefit from flexible working without the financial uncertainty.

Those happy to work varied hours each week can do so, but others will be allowed to request a fixed working pattern after 26 weeks of service, giving workers greater control over their own lives.

Repealing Swedish derogation
The Good Work Plan also addresses ‘Swedish derogation’, which currently allows agency workers to exchange their right to be paid the same as permanent counterparts in return for a contract guaranteeing pay between assignments.

Although the original intentions of Swedish derogation were to offer reassurance that individuals would still earn during quieter periods, some employers have been using this opt-out to reduce the size of their pay bill.

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The government aims to repeal Swedish derogation with new legislation, banning the use of this type of contract to withhold equal pay rights; instead, long-term agency workers will receive wages equal to those of permanent employees.

Tougher enforcement measures
In order to create a level playing field between businesses, there needs to be effective enforcement.

This involves increasing enforcement protections for agency workers where they have pay withheld, or unclear deductions made, while new legislation will increase the maximum penalty imposed during employment tribunals on the grounds of aggravated breach.

These proposed changes will significantly change the enforcement landscape, naming and shaming employers who fail to pay tribunal awards on time and making workers aware of the rights they have.

Preparing for the future
With the arrival of the Good Work Plan and ongoing consultation regarding employment laws and legislation, 2019 will be a crucial year for businesses and workers alike. It’s important that organisations take the time to review the changes and understand the requirements outlined in the new legislation, consulting an experienced legal team for advice if needed.

Tina Chander is a partner and head of the employment team at Wright Hassall – a firm of solicitors providing legal services, including corporate law, commercial law, litigation and dispute resolution, employment law and property law.

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