Employment law changes take effect

Legislative changes brought into force on 1 October 2010 include increases in the national minimum wage (NMW), the commencement of most of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 and additional protection for people using employment agencies to find work in the modelling and entertainment sectors. The government, which says nearly one million people will benefit from the NMW increases, also announced future changes in the law regarding flexible working and parental leave.

Increases in national minimum wage

New rates for the national minimum wage (NMW) came into force and, for the first time, a minimum wage for apprentices was introduced. The NMW is now:

  • GBP 5.93 (about €6.73 as at 19 October 2010) per hour for workers aged 21 years and above – increased from GBP 5.80 (€6.59). This ‘adult’ rate used to apply at age 22;
  • GBP 4.92 (€5.59) per hour for 18–20 year olds, increased from GBP 4.83 (€5.48);
  • GBP 3.64 (€4.13) per hour for 16–17 year olds, increased from GBP 3.57 (€4.06);
  • GBP 2.50 (€2.84) per hour for apprentices under 19 or those aged 19 years and over but in the first year of their apprenticeship. All other apprentices are entitled to the standard NMW rate for their age group.

Employment Relations Minister Edward Davey said: ‘The increases to the [NMW] this year are appropriate for the economic climate. They strike a balance between helping the lowest paid whilst at the same time not jeopardising their employment.’

The government estimates that nearly one million people stand to benefit from these increases. According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), two thirds of the beneficiaries will be women, highlighting the NMW’s positive role in narrowing the gender pay gap.

In 2009, the Low Pay Commission (LPC) recommended that information should be published about employers who flout the NMW provisions. The government announced that this will happen from 1 January 2011.

Equality Act 2010

The bulk of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 (UK0905029I) came into force on 1 October. This included the basic framework of protection against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

On the issue of the gender pay gap, among the Act’s provisions brought into force were those which allow claims for direct gender pay discrimination where there is no actual comparator, and which make pay secrecy clauses in employment contracts unenforceable. However, its provisions relating to the publication of gender pay gap information are, along with a number of others, still being considered by the coalition government. Ministers are said to be ‘considering how to implement these remaining provisions in the best way for business and for others with rights and responsibilities under the Act’. Their decisions will be announced in due course.

The government is also currently consulting on the implementation of the public sector equality duty (UK0703019I).

Employment agencies

Among a number of changes introduced by the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2010 is a ban on the practice of employment agencies charging up-front fees to would-be models. Tighter conditions now also apply to up-front fees for those seeking work in the entertainment field. For this group, amendments extended to 30 days the previous seven-day ‘cooling off’ period before fees can be charged, and increased rights on cancellations and refunds.

Flexible working and parental leave

Coinciding with the above changes, the coalition government confirmed that it intends to extend the right to request flexible working to parents of all children under 18, from April 2011. Currently, the right to request flexible working is confined to working parents of children under 16 years of age or disabled children up to the age of 18, as well as to carers of elderly or sick partners or relatives (UK0806049I). The government estimates that this change will extend the right to request flexible working to nearly 300,000 more people.

The government also announced that it will launch a consultation later in the autumn looking at:

  • how to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees;
  • the design of a new system of flexible parental leave to encourage shared parenting.

These developments were both envisaged by the coalition agreement (475Kb PDF) setting out the present government’s policy commitments, and forming part of its more general commitment to ‘review employment and workplace laws, for employers and employees, to ensure they maximise flexibility for both parties while protecting fairness and providing the competitive environment required for enterprise to thrive’.

Both the TUC and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) issued press statements making clear that they support the government’s objective of a universal right for employees to request flexible working.

Mark Hall, IRRU, University of Warwick

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