Provisions in the Employment Bill (Northern Ireland) 2016 aim to stimulate business confidence while strengthening the rights of employers.
At the beginning of March the Employment Bill (Northern Ireland) 2016 was sent for royal assent. The Bill is part of a package of measures that have come from the Department for Employment and Learning’s review of employment law and will, it is envisaged, contribute positively to a Northern Ireland employment relations framework that is fair, effective and balanced in respect of the needs of the business and the rights of employees.
The Bill covers several areas of reform, including the early resolution of workplace disputes. It will make it obligatory for potential tribunal claims to be put to the Labour Relations Agency (LRA). Upon receiving this information the LRA will be required to send a copy to a conciliation officer who will work to promote a settlement between the parties. However, this requirement does not apply if another person has started legal proceedings in relation to the same matter. The intent of this provision is to encourage claimants to resolve their disputes outside of court, yet to comply with this provision, the claimant only has to make contact with the LRA, they do not have to go through the early conciliation process.
The Bill also reforms several areas of whistleblowing legislation and closes a loophole that allows a person to avail of whistleblowing protection where whistleblowing issues relate to their own employment. The Bill now means that if someone blows the whistle it must be in the public interest in order to be prosecuted. It also includes an amendment concerning zero-hours contracts. It grants the Department for Employment and Learning the power to make regulations preventing the abuse arising from the use of zero-hours contracts, although these regulations have yet to be published.
A deadline of 30 June 2017 has also been set by the legislation for the introduction of regulations that force employers to publish information that will show whether there are gender pay gap differences in their workforce. The aim of this provision is to reduce discrimination and inequality in the work place. For those entering the world of work the Bill also includes a provision to ensure that they receive impartial and practical careers guidance. The responsibility for this careers guidance is placed on the department who must make arrangements for and provide the guidance in an impartial manner. Careers guidance is defined as advice on what type of employment is available and suitable for the person receiving the guidance and what education or training may be available to those persons to prepare them for employment.
Speaking following the introduction of the Bill Employment and Leaning Minister, Stephen Farry MLA explained that while his department monitors employment law in Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and further afield, his desire was to introduce a local solution that is in the best interest of Northern Ireland. “The Employment Bill has the ultimate objective of strengthening Northern Ireland’s reputation as a good place to work and do business,” he said.