The employment industry is shocked at the lack of mention of the employment bill in this year’s Queen’s Speech, with some suggesting that it could signal the government’s plans to put the creation of a single enforcement body on the back burner.
The Queen’s Speech marks the State Opening of Parliament, which this year took place on the 10th May. The speech, written by ministers, is traditionally a time for the government to lay out the priorities for the coming months. This year’s speech was read by Prince Charles in the Queen’s absence.
But despite the speech including 38 laws that the government intends to pass, there was no mention of the employment bill. This is a huge disappointment for the employment industry who had been hotly anticipating the bill, which includes changes that would finally bring about the regulation of the umbrella industry and provide added protection for contingent workers.
In the speech, Prince Charles confirmed that the government’s main concern is to “grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families.” Many are arguing that the employment bill would help the government achieve this goal.
Having been announced in the Queen’s speech in December 2019, the bill is now facing its second year of delays, having already been left off the list last year. The bill would provide protection for some of the county’s most vulnerable workers.
The bill details protection against pregnancy discrimination, a week’s leave for unpaid carers, make employers allow flexible working where there is no reason not to, and ensuring that hospitality staff receive all service charges and tips, and other issues designed to protect workers.
But one of the main points of the bill includes the government’s intention to create a single enforcement body that would regulate the employment industry. This would, among other things, regulate the umbrella industry.
Many of the loudest voices in the umbrella industry regulation debate have come forward to comment on the omission of the bill from the Queen’s Speech.
Chris Bryce, CEO of The Freelancer and Contractor Service Association (FCSA), which operates a best practice Code of Compliance for its members, described it as a “missed opportunity.”
Rebecca Seeley-Harris, leading expert in employment status, and InniAccounts CEO James Poyser, collaborated in May 2021 to gift a draft policy paper to Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) which was designed to fast track the regulation of the umbrella industry. They released a joint statement which said, “It delivers a brutal message of indifference to hard-working self-starters from the gig economy workers to consultant GPs and private sector contractors.”
Some in the industry argue that the likelihood is that the responses for the December consultation on the umbrella industry are still being reviewed. In addition, a new call for evidence around compliance and enforcement in the UK has recently been triggered, with an end date of 31st May. The outcome of both consultations will likely influence the processes and priorities of the SEB.
CEO of compliance firm IR35 Shield, Dave Chaplin, pointed out that some protection can be afforded to workers in the form of HMRC powers to crack down on tax avoidance, a key feature of dishonest umbrella companies. “HMRC already garners the data it needs, and just needs to act on it quickly,” he said.
Along with other compliant umbrella companies, we at JMK continue to hope for a future where our industry is regulated which will protect workers and improve standards across the board. In the meantime, we continue to aim to deliver the highest levels of service to our contractors, while operating with complete transparency.
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