Power call

Devolve employment laws to Scotland, says think tank

Scottish Parliament Holyrood
The parliament should get extra powers over employment says IPPR (pic: Terry Murden)

Employment laws should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament to overcome current confusion and complexity, says a think tank.

Further devolution would be a natural continuation of what has happened so far and would build on longstanding powers, such as skills and education, and new powers over social security, says a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

The report says the current setp-up “has not led to improved outcomes for people or the economy – rather, it risks engendering duplication, confusion and complexity, hindering them instead.”

The SNP has long campaigned for the devolution of employment laws to Scotland and has welcomed the report’s recommendations.

Social Justice Spokesperson, David Linden MP said: “Employment law must be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as a matter of urgency, and it is encouraging to see a leading think tank, such as the IPPR, recognise the merits of developing employment law.

“With full control over employment law, the Scottish Parliament would be able to protect and extend workers’ rights – with the power to introduce progressive measures like a Real Living Wage and increased statutory sick pay.

“If the Tories continue to dither on this issue, [Labour leader] Sir Keir Starmer must confirm whether he’ll commit to devolving employment law if he gets the keys to Number 10 at the next election.

“If he fails to do so, as he has done previously, then it is clear that Westminster does not have Scotland’s best interests at heart.”

New laws

A number of new employment legislation comes into force this spring, with changes to the National Living Wage, flexible working and holiday pay all contributing to the most significant changes for years.

From 6 April, employees will have increased flexibility in taking paternity leave from following the birth or adoption of a child. An eligible father or partner will be able to take one- or two-weeks’ statutory paternity leave, and the rules around how the time can be taken have been relaxed, while a reduced notice of 28 days will be required, down from 15 weeks. 

The UK Government has introduced important changes to the law governing holidays and holiday pay to simplify the rules for workers classified as “irregular hours workers” and “part-year workers”.

Changes include how holiday entitlement is calculated, which will now accrue at the minimum rate of 12.07% of the hours in the previous pay period. Employers of part-year workers and irregular-hours workers will now be able to opt to pay them rolled-up holiday pay (spreading the holiday pay over the year’s wages). 

From 1 April 2024, the National Living Wage will be extended to workers aged 21 and 22. Employers should prepare for annual increases in rates, including rises in the National Living Wage (ranging from £5.28 to £6.40 per hour for apprentices and from £10.42 to £11.44 per hour for workers aged 21 and over), statutory sick pay, family-related statutory pay, and redundancy pay. 

Many workers will see a pay rise

From 6 April 2024, pregnant women, mothers who have returned from maternity or adoption leave in the past 18 months, and women who have had a miscarriage in the past two weeks, will be offered priority for suitable alternative roles should they be made redundant.  

Meanwhile employees will be able to ask to work flexibly from the first day of employment, rather than needing 26 weeks’ service. An updated Acas statutory code on requests for flexible working is also due to come into force in April 2024.  

Also from 6 April 2024, employees providing long-term care to a dependant can ask for one week’s unpaid leave every 12 months to care for that dependant. This is also a right from the first day of employment and the leave can be taken flexibly for any period between half a day and one week. 

Later in the year, from October 2024 employers will be under a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the sexual harassment of their staff during their employment. This duty will sit alongside existing protections from sexual harassment under the Equality Act 2010. 

Further legislation is pending, with the Employment (Allocation of Tips) Act 2023 (which will require employers to share tips without deductions), the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act 2023 (which will give greater rights to vulnerable workers), and the draft Statutory Code of Practice on ‘fire and rehire’ dismissals all likely to come into force later this year. 

Patrick Glencross, a senior associate in Furley Page, said: “These changes represent a broadly welcomed extension of employees’ rights, but employers need to ensure they are fully prepared for these changes when they come into effect from April.

“Contracts, policies and procedures will all need to be adjusted to take account of the new rules and ensure employers do not fall foul of their responsibilities, so taking the time to prepare is essential.” 

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