This month the news contains the employment highlights of the Queen’s speech, how Long COVID is affecting people, a new Health & Wellbeing report from the CIPD, a new campaign to help tackle pay disparity, government guidance for businesses employing Ukrainian refugees and new legislation covering foreign professional qualifications.
- Queen’s Speech 2022: Implications for employment
- COVID-19: Long COVID symptoms affect day-to-day activities of 1.2 million people and EHRC says it may be a disability
- Health & Wellbeing: CIPD publishes new report for 2022
- Pay Disparity: End Salary History campaign launched to tackle pay disparity
- Ukraine: New guidance for businesses offering work to people from Ukraine
- Qualifications: Professional Qualifications Act 2022 receives Royal Assent
Queen’s Speech 2022: Implications for employment
On 10 May 2022, the Queen’s Speech was delivered at the opening of Parliament. A key point of interest was the notable exclusion of the long-awaited Employment Bill. Although its omission was expected (after a government official suggested it was unlikely to be included in the Queen’s speech), the TUC pointed out that the government had promised the Employment Bill to enhance workers’ rights 20 times since first announcing it in the 2019 Queen’s Speech. The head of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, said that the failure to bring forward the legislation “sent a signal that [the government is] happy for rogue employers to ride roughshod over workers’ rights“. The Employment Bill had been expected to contain measures in relation to tips, additional rights for zero hours workers and pregnant women, neonatal and paid carers’ leave and default flexible working.
The Queen’s Speech announced a new Harbours (Seafarers’ Remuneration) Bill, following the recent mass redundancies at P&O. The Bill is intended to protect seafarers working on vessels regularly visiting UK ports by giving ports the power to refuse access to ferry services that do not pay the equivalent to the national minimum wage (NMW) to seafarers while in UK waters, although no changes will be made to the NMW legislation itself. A consultation has been launched, closing on 7 June 2022. However, the British Ports Association (BPA) has already said that it has concerns about ports being made to regulate ships and that ports do not “have a core competency” in enforcing the minimum wage. The government also hopes to secure bilateral agreements on “minimum wage corridors” with France, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Ireland and Denmark, where seafarers on routes between either country must be paid at least the equivalent of the NMW.
In briefing notes, the government has also stated its aim to encourage greater private sector investment in employee training, including apprentices. The government will consider whether the current tax system, including the apprenticeship levy, is sufficient to incentivise businesses to invest in high-quality employee training.
Despite the absence of the anticipated Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech, BEIS has issued a press release highlighting the actions it says the government has taken “to support workers and build a high skilled, high productivity, high wage economy“. The key measures highlighted were:
- The increase of the national minimum wage (NMW) and national living wage (NLW) in April 2022. The government also named and shamed 208 employers in December 2021 who failed to pay the NMW.
- An extension of the ban on exclusivity clauses for all workers whose guaranteed weekly income is below the Lower Earnings Limit.
- A commitment to produce a statutory code of practice on fire and rehire.
- The abolition of the Swedish derogation which had allowed agency workers to be paid less than permanent staff in certain circumstances and the introduction of the right to receive a written statement of terms on day one for all workers.
- Recognising the importance of flexible working, including a consultation on making flexible working the default that closed on 1 December 2021 and to which the government response is awaited.
- The introduction of a legal right to two weeks’ paid bereavement leave for those who have lost a child.
- Support for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, including protecting wages through the furlough scheme.
COVID-19: Long COVID symptoms affect day-to-day activities of 1.2 million people and EHRC says it may be a disability
An estimated 1.8 million people in the UK are experiencing long COVID symptoms, according to the latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) COVID-19 Infection Survey, based on self-reported long COVID symptoms. Long COVID is the term used to describe COVID-19 symptoms that persist for more than four weeks, but 44% of people self-reporting long COVID had been affected for at least a year and 13% for at least two years. 67% of those with self-reported long COVID say that their day-to-day activities are adversely affected by their symptoms, amounting to 1.2 million people, and 19% report that their ability to undertake day-to-day activities has been “limited a lot“. Long COVID is most prevalent in people aged between 35 and 49, females, people living in more deprived areas and people working in social care, teaching, education or health care. There is also increased prevalence in people who already have another activity-limiting health condition or disability.
In a tweet posted on 7 May, the EHRC stated that “without case law or scientific consensus, EHRC does not recommend that ‘long covid’ be treated as a disability“. COVID support groups and unions expressed concern at this approach and, the following day, the EHRC published a clarificatory statement. It said that, although long COVID is not currently a condition which automatically constitutes a disability under the Equality Act 2010, if a person’s symptoms have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, long COVID might amount to a disability, which would be determined by an employment tribunal or court in the usual way. Employers should follow existing guidance when considering reasonable adjustments and flexible working in order to support affected workers.
Health & Wellbeing: CIPD publishes new Report for 2022
The CIPD has published a report on its Health and wellbeing at work survey 2022. Key findings include:
- COVID-19 absence. COVID-19 is included among the top three causes of short-term absence for two-thirds (67%) of organisations and just over a quarter (26%) report long COVID among their top causes of long-term absence.
- Long COVID. Nearly half (46%) of respondents reported having employees who have experienced long COVID. While most suggested only a small proportion of employees are affected, the report warns that this likely underestimates the real figure.
- Absence management. While the majority of employers look to line managers to manage short-term and long-term absence and train them on this, only 38% agree that managers are confident to have sensitive discussions and signpost employees to expert support. Management style remains the most common cause of stress at work.
- Health and wellbeing. Over half of employers (52%) undertook additional action around employee health and wellbeing in response to the pandemic. While figures suggest that there has been less focus on employee health and wellbeing than in the first year of the pandemic (70% of respondents agreed that employee wellbeing is on senior leaders’ agenda, a reduction of 5% since last year), the longer-term trend suggests it has been gradually rising up the corporate agenda. Half of organisations (51%) are taking a strategic approach to employee wellbeing and those organisations are much more likely to report positive outcomes. Mental health is the most common focus of wellbeing activities and the extent to which there is provision for specific groups or issues, such as for carers, bereavement, suicide risk or good sleep hygiene, is more variable. It may be of interest, amid the current cost-of-living crisis, that the most neglected area is financial wellbeing.
- Homeworking. The survey found that almost three-quarters of employers (72%) are providing new or better support for people working from home. However, there is indication that presenteeism is more prevalent among homeworkers and the number of organisations taking steps to tackle the issue has grown over the past two years (53% in 2022, up from 45% in 2021 and 32% in 2020).
Pay Disparity: End Salary History campaign launched to tackle pay disparity
A new End Salary History campaign to tackle pay disparity on the grounds of gender, race and disability has been launched by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and the Fawcett Society. Fawcett Society polling has found that 58% of women and 53% of men feel that being asked about their earning history causes them to be offered a lower wage and affected their confidence when asking for better pay (61% of women and 53% of men). The campaign includes a guide for recruiters on ending the practice of asking job applicants about their salary history and an employer petition to bolster the Fawcett Society’s call on the government to ban the practice.
The government recently announced a pilot scheme which would see participants refrain from asking job applicants about salary history as well as including salary information in job advertisements. Further details of the government’s scheme are awaited.
Ukraine: New guidance for businesses offering work to people from Ukraine
On 6 May 2022, the government published new guidance for businesses offering work to people from Ukraine. The guidance applies to businesses in England, Scotland and Wales.
While the guidance is not detailed, it provides the following:
- Businesses offering employment opportunities to people arriving in the UK from Ukraine should complete a vacancy information questionnaire and return the completed questionnaire to a specified Home Office email address. After completion of the questionnaire, a business will be contacted by the National Employer and Partnership Team at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) within five working days. Job opportunities will then be shared across the DWP Jobcentre Plus network and with the Refugee Employment Network (REN).
- Ukrainians who hold professional qualifications may need those qualifications to be recognised in the UK, if they work in a regulated profession. The UK Centre for Professional Qualifications provides a free service which explains whether a profession is regulated and any entry requirements.
There is an FAQ section at the end of the guidance which provides information on immigration status and additional support available to businesses. One of the FAQs addresses employment rights, noting that “the UK is proud to extend the same employment rights that everyone in the UK is entitled to, to people arriving in the UK from Ukraine“. Businesses are encouraged to understand these rights by reference to the employment status of a worker. The FAQ response directs businesses to GOV.UK guidance and ACAS for further information.
Qualifications: Professional Qualifications Act 2022 receives Royal Assent
On 28 April 2022, the Professional Qualifications Act 2022 (PQA 2022) received Royal Assent. It will give UK regulators the power to make mutual recognition agreements with their counterparts in other countries where there is a UK shortage of qualified professionals.
The PQA 2022 revokes the European Union (Recognition of Professional Qualifications) Regulations 2015 (SI 2015/2059) which implemented a reciprocal framework for the recognition of professional qualifications, enabling nationals from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland to have their professional qualifications recognised and gain access to the regulated profession in which they are qualified in another EEA member state or Switzerland. Any sector-specific legislation that established a similar interim system following the UK’s exit from the EU will also be revoked.
Under the PQA 2022, the government and, where applicable, devolved administrations, will identify and specify in regulations a priority list of professions where there is demand for skills from overseas. Considerations for those priority professions will include whether the profession is on the shortage occupation list, vacancy levels, workforce modelling and skills forecasting, and whether there are other ways that professions might address shortages, such as arrangements already in place to recognise qualifications from other countries. The government has stated that the key provisions of the PQA 2022 will come into force by autumn 2022 and that it will work closely with regulators and other stakeholders on how to prepare for the new regime.
In May 2021, the government published guidance to assist regulators in negotiating and entering into mutual recognition agreements with foreign counterparts.
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This month the news is full of diversity and equality – calls to support and engage on a wide range of matters such as neurodiversity, LGBTQ+ and race and ethnicity. There is also a focus on health – with updates on fit notes to calls for action on mental health and menopause.