NI: Employment Bill passed at the NI Assembly – What changes will it bring?
Rachel Richardson, director at Tughans Solicitors in Belfast, comments on the Employment Bill which has reached the Final Reading stage at the NI Assembly.
The Employment Bill has come about at a result of the Employment Law Review in Northern Ireland, which began in 2013. The Bill covers several areas of reform and particular areas of interest include:
1. Early Resolution of Workplace Disputes
This is one of the principal areas of the Bill. It will make it obligatory for possible tribunal claims to be routed initially through the LRA, before they can be issued in the Employment Tribunal. The intention behind this change is obviously to encourage potential Claimants to resolve their disputes without having to engage in the Tribunal system. Importantly however, the potential Claimant simply has to make contact with the LRA, to have complied with their obligations, they do not actually have to go through the early conciliation itself. This has been in force in GB for some time and has had a high success rate.
2. Unfair Dismissal Qualification Period
The Assembly considered whether to extend the current unfair dismissal qualifying period from one year to two years, as in GB, but decided that it should remain at one year.
3. Changes to Whistleblowing Legislation
There is reform planned for several areas of whistleblowing legislation including closing the loophole which currently exists, where someone can avail of whistleblowing protection where it relates to their own personal contract of employment. This was never the intention of the legislation and therefore this amendment will now mean that if someone blows the whistle it must be in the public interest in order to be protected.
4. Zero Hours Contracts
Given the controversy over the misuse of zero-hours contracts, an amendment has been added to the Bill, to the effect that DEL will be able to make Regulations in order to prevent abuse arising from the use of zero-hours contracts. These Regulations have not yet been published.
5. Gender Pay Gap Report
A further amendment to the Bill is that, there will be Regulations published by 30 June 2017, which will stipulate that employers must publish information which will show whether there are gender pay gap differences in their workforce. The aim is to reduce discrimination and inequality in the workplace.
It is anticipated that the Bill will receive Royal Assent later this year and it will be particularly interesting to see what impact early conciliation has on the amount of Tribunal claims being processed in Northern Ireland.