Employment Law General Update – February 2022
This month the news highlights the following areas in need of support and reform: Levelling Up the UK, ethnicity pay reporting, sick pay disparity, unused apprenticeship levy funds and new flexi-job apprenticeship plus a spotlight on endometriosis affecting working women.
- Progress: Levelling Up the UK – white paper
- Pay Disparity: Women and Equalities Committee recommends mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting
- Sick Pay: Think tank report reveals significant age and race disparity in access to sick pay
- Apprenticeships: Nearly half of firms returned unspent apprenticeship levy funds
- Apprenticeships: New Regulations for “flexi-job” alternative apprenticeships
- Women’s Health: Workplace awareness and support needed for endometriosis
Progress: Levelling Up the UK – white paper
The White Paper ‘Levelling Up the United Kingdom’ was published on 2 February 2022 and describes the steps the government will take to achieve its objective of “Levelling Up” the UK. This will involve taking steps to make the UK more prosperous and united by tackling the regional and local inequalities that unfairly hold back communities and to encourage private sector investment across the UK.
The new policy regime in the White Paper comprises four key objectives and 12 UK-wide missions in a change programme to be delivered by 2030. In outline, this includes:
- Increasing productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector. This is allied to maximising investment from the private sector and public investment in research and development. Other related goals include renters having a secure path to ownership, a reduction in the number of non-decent homes, improving transport connections and maximising the uptake of high-quality skills training.
- The highest level of devolution for all parts of England that request it. This is linked to people taking pride in their areas, an increase in well-being and life expectancy and a reduction in crime.
- The number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths significantly increasing.
The White Paper also contains a detailed policy programme which addresses the practical delivery of the objectives and missions. This is followed by a section setting out the next steps for implementation.
Although the White Paper is intended to set out the practical steps intended to achieve the goal of Levelling Up, it is predominately written at a high and aspirational level and contains more detail regarding context and the status quo than it does hard detail about what is actually going to be done (including how many of the proposals are likely to be funded). However, it is certainly arguable that the mission (to make the UK more prosperous and united by tackling the regional and local inequalities that unfairly hold back people and communities and to encourage private sector investment across the UK) is both positive and desirable.
Pay Disparity: Women and Equalities Committee recommends mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting
The House of Common’s Women and Equalities Committee examined the case for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting in a one-off evidence session on 12 January 2022. In the report of the session, the committee recommends that the government should make ethnicity pay gap reporting mandatory by April 2023. While the report acknowledges the challenges of collecting ethnicity data, such as concerns over the data protection implications of small sample sizes, it states that businesses are ready for the government to act. The government consultation, which stated that it was “time to move on ethnicity pay reporting”, closed in January 2019 but a response has not yet been published.
The Committee’s chair, the Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, said,
“The Government’s failure to move forwards on ethnicity pay gap reporting is perplexing. We already have the systems and structures in place to start reporting on the ethnicity pay gap, as well as a clear impetus- tackling inequality benefits not only marginalised groups, but the whole economy. The Government has no excuse. All that is lacking, it seems, is the will and attention of the current administration.
“Last week, the Government made bold promises to ‘Level Up’ geographically. Time and again it proves itself to be blind to the importance of levelling up within our communities and address long-standing disparities along the lines of protected characteristics. By taking this small step, the Government would demonstrate its commitment to working with business to reduce inequality.”
Sick Pay: Think tank report reveals significant age and race disparity in access to sick pay
On 4 February 2022, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and University College London (UCL) published a report entitled ‘A Healthy Labour Market: Creating a post-pandemic world of healthier work’ highlighting the disparity in access to sick pay among different groups of workers in the UK. The report revealed that:
- Older employees above age 65 are five times more likely to lack access to sick pay compared to younger workers aged 25 to 44.
- South Asian workers are around 40% more likely to lack access to sick pay than white British workers. The report suggested that this could in part be caused by institutional racism, as income, occupation and employment status differences do not explain the disparity.
The report also calls for statutory sick pay (SSP) to be reformed, including the abolition of the lower earnings limit threshold, increasing the rate of SSP to 80% of earnings (up to a maximum of £2,500 per month), providing for access to SSP from day one of illness and improving enforcement against employers who do not comply with their obligations.
Apprenticeships: Nearly half of firms returned unspent apprenticeship levy funds
A new poll of more than 500 HR professionals (conducted by Survation on behalf of London First) has found that 48% of firms have returned unspent apprenticeship levy funding and only 17% of employers think the levy system is working well. This has prompted renewed calls for the system to be reformed and made more flexible to allow employers to use it to reskill and upskill employees. The poll also gathered employers’ perspectives on how the levy could be improved.
Increasing the spending deadline from two to three years, using some of the levy to contribute towards the wage cost of new apprentices and incentivising employers to convert Kickstart placements into apprenticeships were each agreed to be potential improvements by 35% of employers. A quarter of employers thought the levy would be improved if larger employers could transfer more funds to SMEs and 41% said they would be more likely to transfer more funds if they were allowed to.
Apprenticeships: New Regulations for “flexi-job” alternative apprenticeships
On 26 January 2022, the Apprenticeships (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/86) were made, enabling a pilot scheme of “flexi-job” apprenticeships to commence in England. The Regulations come into force on 6 April 2022.
A flexi-job apprenticeship is a new type of alternative English apprenticeship. The Regulations will allow employers taking on a flexi-job apprentice to only give a three-month commitment, instead of the usual 12-month minimum commitment under an approved English apprenticeship agreement. This will allow flexi-job apprentices to complete discrete blocks of employment with training, with different employers, throughout the course of their apprenticeship. A key barrier to taking on apprentices in certain sectors is the need for varied and flexible employment patterns, particularly in the creative and construction sectors, where employment may be short-term or project-based.
After the minimum three-month arrangement with one employer, the apprentice can either begin a new arrangement with the same employer or move to continue their apprenticeship with a new employer. Flexi-job apprenticeships may only be carried out for a limited number of approved apprenticeship standards, in the creative and construction sectors.
The flexi-job apprenticeship pilot scheme will begin in April 2022 and is intended to last for 18 to 24 months. It will be reviewed after nine, 12 and 18 months. The government will publish guidance ahead of the pilot start date. If the pilot is successful, the flexi-job scheme may be made available to other apprenticeship standards.
Women’s Health: Workplace awareness and support needed for endometriosis
On 9 February 2022, workplace support for people with endometriosis was debated in the House of Commons. Alec Shelbrooke MP, gave a particularly good description of the huge impact and variety of ways it can affect sufferers in his speech to the Commons. His main concerns being that employers need to understand the condition better to enable them to support their employees appropriately and reduce discrimination for women, and girls, suffering from this. Alex Davies-Jones MP, went on to say,
“Some 1.5 million women are dealing with symptoms ranging from chronic pain and fatigue to infertility, and the research, awareness and support for those suffering from what—as we have heard —can be an extremely debilitating condition is still lagging far behind, and is lacklustre at best.”
Paul Scully MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, confirmed that the government’s women’s health strategy, to be published later this year, will focus on workplace health as one of its six priority areas. It will include a chapter on “Menstrual health and gynaecological conditions” which will explore ways to improve awareness, care and treatment of those suffering from endometriosis and other similar conditions. Given that a taskforce was set up this month to tackle Menopause we are hopeful that endometriosis will be properly tackled so that women suffering with endometriosis can fulfil their potential in the workplace in a way that suits them best.
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