The government has been accused of betraying some of the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers in Britain after it emerged it would leave out landmark reforms to employment rights from the Queen’s speech.
The employment bill is not expected to be included in next Tuesday’s list of priorities for parliament as the government focuses on policies relating to energy and economic crime.
The bill, which is being delayed for a second year, would have introduced protections against pregnancy discrimination, ensured restaurants handed over all service charges and tips to staff, and created a single enforcement body for employment rights to make sure that abuses do not fall in the gaps between different regulators.
Other measures were expected to include a default right to flexible working patterns and new safeguards for gig economy and zero-hours workers who were promised more “predictable contracts”.
The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “If the government fails to bring forward an employment bill at next week’s Queen’s speech, it will betray some of the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers in Britain.
“Ministers have no excuse for breaking their pledge to enhance workers’ rights – especially after the scandalous events at P&O. They will have conned working people.”
Laurence Turner, the head of research and policy at the GMB union, said: “This is a historic missed opportunity. Ministers must bring forward strengthened legislation that extends workers’ rights and outlaws the pernicious practice of fire and rehire once and for all.”
Alex Marshall, the head of the IWGB union, which represents thousands of gig economy workers including couriers for the takeaway delivery firms Deliveroo and Just Eat, said he was not surprised by the latest delay.
He said the UK government’s actions left it trailing behind Europe, which has laid out legislation to crack down on fake self-employment to ensure workers get the minimum wage, access to sick pay, holidays and other employment rights.
The employment bill was first promised in December 2019 after Boris Johnson’s general election victory, claimed as a way to improve UK workers’ rights after Brexit.
The plan to crack down on restaurants keeping waiters and kitchen staff tips was promised as recently as September last year – five years after it was first proposed by the government.
The new legislation was pledged as a follow-up to a first tranche of changes implemented in April 2019 that ensured workers were handed a written statement of their rights on their first day at work and an end to rules that allowed agency workers to be paid less than employees in the same role.
Those reforms came more than two years after they were recommended in a government-backed report into employment practices by Tony Blair’s former adviser Matthew Taylor which was published in July 2017.
Taylor said on Thursday: “It is highly disappointing to see the government failing yet again to act on the recommendations of the Good Work review. This leaves unaddressed many harmful weaknesses in our system of labour regulation and employment taxation.”
Sharon Graham, the general secretary of the union Unite, said: “Frankly, this employment bill was never going to address the key issues facing workers whose jobs, pay and conditions are under attack. So, it is pretty pathetic that the government is not even prepared to table its own weak proposals to tinker at the margins.
“Ministers wring their hands at outrageous attacks on workers, such as the P&O sackings. But when it comes to taking action, they always side with the employers and leave workers in the cold.”