July 24, 2024

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Lewis Silkin welcomes Northern Ireland employment law consultation

Lewis Silkin welcomes Northern Ireland employment law consultation

Lewis Silkin has welcomed a consultation on far-reaching proposed employment law reforms in Northern Ireland.

Paul Gillen, partner in the firm’s Belfast office, said it represents the first major employment law consultation in more than 10 years and promises to overhaul several areas of employment rights.

The consultation on the Employment Rights Bill was launched earlier this week.

Mr Gillen said: “At Lewis Silkin we are very keen to work with key stakeholders in the business community to get their views. These views will inform our response which will be meaningful and constructive.

“The document covers a wide range of employment rights areas but there are some surprises as well as omissions.”

The terms of employment section on tackling insecure work includes a review of employment status and the ill-defined ‘employee, worker, self-employed’ three-tier model, a day one right to written terms and conditions for employees and workers and a review of certain agency worker rights and regulation.

These will have a big impact, says Lewis Silkin, as will proposals on “limiting or restricting zero hours contracts, the gig economy, and potential regulation of fire and rehire practices”.

“Directors, managers and officers will be concerned about possible personally liability for failing to notify the department of collective redundancies,” Mr Gillen said.

On voice and representation, provisions for wider access to workplaces for unions, a reduction in number of employees who can call for union recognition and reduction in the notice period for industrial action ballots from seven to five days may see increased union representation.

Pay and benefits including tips to workers, extending a right to a payslip and clarity of payslip information are also on the table.

Work-life balance attitudes have been transformed in recent years not least by the Covid lockdowns and the consultation will study the improvement of this balance as well as better access to employment.

Mr Gillen explained that “areas of consultation include permitting the two weeks’ paternity leave to be taken in two one-week blocks, introduction of one week’s unpaid carer’s leave and the introduction of paid neonatal care leave and consideration of a right to disconnect”.

However, he said many employers will be surprised that a number of areas did not make it into the consultation, including access to apprenticeship levy funds, protection in holiday claims with no two-year backstop available, and holiday pay in atypical working relationships, amongst others — despite the recent UK Supreme Court ruling on PSNI holiday pay entitlement.

There are also no proposals on restricting probationary periods of qualifying service to unfair dismissal claims.

Consultation responses are due by 30 September 2024 and Lewis Silkin is encouraging all stakeholders to engage in the consultation process to “give a voice to businesses in this important process”.