Social partners seem to welcome Queen's speech

No composite employment bill was contained in the Queen's speech made to Parliament on 14 May 1997, setting out the new Labour Government's priorities. However, the speech did include measures to combat unemployment and low pay which proved largely acceptable to the social partners.

In a previous EIRO review of the industrial relations consequences of the new Labour Government (UK9704125F) it was suggested that it was unlikely that the Government would produce an all-embracing employment bill in its first term of office, and this has proved correct. However, the social partners were still relatively pleased with announcements made on measures to tackle unemployment and low pay.

The Queen's speech promised the following on jobs and low pay:

  • the Government "has pledged to mount a fundamental attack upon youth and long-term unemployment and will take early steps to implement a welfare to work programme to tackle unemployment, financed by a levy on the excess profits of the privatised utilities, which will be brought forward in an early budget". The Government's target is to reduce unemployment by 250,000 through this means; and
  • as part of the drive to "fairness at work", the Government is to take the first steps to establish a Low Pay Commission (LPC) comprising employers (including small businesses), trade unions, and independent experts. The LPC, which is likely to be headed by Peter Jarvis, retiring chief executive of Whitbread, is to recommend a figure for the national minimum wage (UK9703112F) and how it is to be implemented. The LPC will meet on a non-statutory basis until its legal position is confirmed.

The Engineering Employers' Federation (EEF) indicated that it has put forward members for the new LPC fearing that, although the minimum wage would have limited direct impact, it may put pressure on differentials: "It is therefore crucial that the initial level of the national minimum wage, and the way in which it is implemented, minimises the effect on the competitiveness of UK industry."

The Construction Employers' Confederation was keen to emphasise that it welcomed the commitment to reducing long-term unemployment, especially among young people: "We look forward to implementing the understanding reached with Labour before the election to introduce a scheme to create 10,000 additional places for the adult unemployed aged between 18-25, in addition to the craft training for 16-18 year olds which the construction industry already carries out through the construction industry training board."

John Monks, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress said that the Government had launched "an ambitious programme that will make a real difference to people at work".

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