First, we had news of the Government's proposal to relax the Sunday trading laws, with a consultation to be launched over the summer on plans to devolve the powers regarding when stores larger than 3,000 square feet can open to local authorities. This was then followed by the Summer Budget and the announcement of a new National Living Wage (which is, in all but name, an enhanced statutory minimum wage). The new living wage will start at £7.20 per hour next year and rise to £9 per hour by 2020.
News of these proposals has prompted a mixed reaction, particularly in Retail, one of the sectors most likely to be impacted by these changes. The proposed changes are likely to prompt many retailers to review their resourcing and pay models, including Sunday premiums and overtime arrangements. Many large retailers have, however, sought to allay Market concerns in recent days by suggesting that the new National Living Wage is unlikely to have a significant impact on their 'bottom line', as it will only apply to employees aged 25 or over. But an initial 11% hike in the current minimum wage for the over 25's next year (with further staged increases over the following 4 years) is likely to force all retailers (as well as employers in other sectors) to consider potential changes to their current pay and staffing levels.
These proposals were then followed yesterday by the Prime Minister's vow to tackle gender inequality in the workplace, and in particular the gender pay gap, so that his daughters (currently aged 4 and 11) can experience complete gender equality when they start their careers.
The gender pay gap has been a hard nut to crack and the latest proposal (introduced by the Coalition Government in its dying days, but first proposed as part of the Labour Government reforms in the Equality Act 2010) is for companies employing 250 employees or more to publish the average earnings for men and women in their company. Beyond the headlines, the Government has launched a gender pay gap consultation, entitled "Closing the Gender Pay Gap", seeking views on the level of gender pay information to be required and the frequency of publication. The consultation also seeks views on wider action that can be taken to inspire girls and women, modernise workplaces and support older working women. The consultation closes on 6 September 2015.
And finally, as if all that was not enough, the Government announced today tougher union laws to limit strikes and pickets with the proposal to introduce a Trade Union Bill. Amongst other things, the Bill will introduce a 50% turnout threshold for a valid ballot on industrial action (with additional hurdles imposed for key public services), and it will limit the period during which a ballot is valid to authorise industrial action for 4 months. The Bill has yet to be published but the Government's proposals have, predictably, attracted an immediate and furious reaction from trade unions. Detailed consultation papers are due to be published shortly and consultation will be open until September 2015.
So, what does this all mean for you and your business?
While the recent flurry of headlines on the proposed employment law changes may soon be forgotten, the proposals present significant change and all employers (large and small) are likely to be impacted to some degree by them. For a greater understanding of what is being proposed and likely impact it may have on your business, please do not hesitate to contact any member of the team.