What does a new Prime Minister mean for workplace rights

Morton Fraser Partner Innes Clark
Innes Clark
20 September 2022

Liz Truss made a number of commitments during the leadership campaign, including scrapping the Health and Social Care Levy and making it more difficult for industrial action to take place.

The Conservative leadership contest brought with it a number of promises and pledges, some more vague and indecipherable than others. Of particular significance, were those relating to industrial action - very much a hot topic at the moment.  The UK Government had already introduced legislation in July removing the ban on agencies supplying workers to cover the work of those taking part in industrial action, and significantly increasing union's financial liability for calling unlawful strikes.  Ms Truss has pledged to take this further by setting minimum service levels for critical national infrastructure, although it is not yet clear exactly how far that will extend.  Other proposals include raising the ballot threshold for a lawful strike from 40% to 50% of members, increasing the minimum notice period for strike action from 2 to 4 weeks and introducing a "cooling off" period after a strike preventing unions from striking at will in the six-month period after the ballot.  Removing the right of public sector workers to use paid leave to carry out trade union activities has also been mooted.  It is likely unions will try to oppose the introduction of these changes - the TUC has already reported the UK Government to the International Labour Organisation (a UN body) for infringing the right to strike by allowing employers to use agency workers during strikes.

One of the legislative changes that took place in April 2022 was the 1.25% increase in National Insurance contributions, a forerunner to the introduction of the Health and Social Care Levy.  However, it was announced in September that the increase is to be reversed with effect from 6 November 2022 and the Levy will not be introduced.

The extension of the reform of IR35 to the private sector took place in April 2021.  Unpopular when it was introduced, since Ms Truss took office it has been confirmed that the changes will be reversed with effect from 6 April 2023.

When Brexit finally happened there was a focus on some EU laws being reviewed, replaced or repealed.  Since then retained EU law has been in place and little has changed with the pandemic taking centre stage.  However, as part of Ms Truss' leadership campaign she promised a "red tape bonfire" pledging to review all retained EU law by the end of 2023.  It is anticipated this will be done via the Brexit Freedoms Bill which will provide for swift repeal of retained EU laws.  From an employment law perspective, it is anticipated that the Agency Workers Regulations, TUPE and certain Health and Safety legislation may be affected.  The Working Time Regulations are also in the firing line and it has been reported that the current maximum 48 hour working week will be reviewed.

It remains to be seen how much change will actually be implemented following Ms Truss' appointment.  It may be that what we eventually see will be a "tweaking" of existing rights rather than the more significant changes being referred to in the media headlines.  Making calculation of holiday pay more straight forward would be welcomed, and some changes to the "gold plated" TUPE legislation may also take place, possibly making harmonisation of contractual terms easier post transfer.  The possible removal of the maximum 48 hour working week, if it were to happen, is perhaps not as significant as it might seem - it is, after all, an average calculated over 17 weeks and can already be opted out of.  There was also a telling lack of reference to the Employment Bill during the leadership contest - already only promised "when parliamentary time allows", the intention to speed up the review of retained EU law may further delay its implementation.


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