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Learning From The Pandemic – Employment Rights Issues?

The Women and Equalities Committee at Westminster, on 9 February, published a report on the economic impact of coronavirus (COVID-19), which highlights how existing gendered inequalities in the economy have been ignored and sometimes exacerbated by the pandemic policy response.

The Committee’s key recommendations and conclusions include a number of issues around areas that may entail debate and possible changes in relation to employment rights depending on the government’s response to same plus any local response form the Northern Ireland Executive:

  • The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) have provided a vital safety net to millions of people, we recommend that schemes to support employees and the self-employed should be informed by an Equality Impact Assessment, drawing on evidence of existing inequalities. The government must conduct and publish Equality Impact Assessments of the CJRS and SEISS alongside its response to this report. We believe this approach would better protect those already at disadvantage in the labour market, including women, and could inform more effective responses to future crises.
  • We recommend the government amend the Flexible Working Regulations 2014, to remove the 26-weeks’ service threshold for employees to request flexible working arrangements. The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that it is unhelpful and unnecessary.
  • The government should publish the draft Employment Bill by the end of June 2021. The draft bill must take into account the recommendations made throughout this report.
  • We recommend the Department for Work and Pensions commit to maintaining the increases in support that have been provided during the pandemic until the end of the pandemic, including the £20 increase in standard allowance for Universal Credit.
  • While changes to the availability for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) have benefited many, it has also thrown into sharp relief the demographics of those who are not eligible, and for whom the level of SSP provides an inadequate safety net. Women are over-represented in this demographic, and we are concerned that the Treasury seems both unaware and uninterested in the evidence showing this. We urge the government to conduct a study to examine the adequacy of, and eligibility for, Statutory Sick Pay. Such a study should be published within three months, alongside an equality impact analysis. This should be done alongside our recommendation for all workers on zero-hour contracts to be able to claim SSP, as set out in our Report on Unequal impact. 
  • We urge the government to introduce legislation in this Parliamentary session to extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers.
  • We recommend that gender pay gap reporting be urgently reinstated, with reporting for the financial years 2019/20 and 2020/21 required in April 2021.
  • The government should publish proposals for introducing ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting within the next six months.
  • We recommend the government amend the HR1 form (used where there are multiple redundancies) to require information about the sex, race, and if possible other protected characteristics of staff.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Great Britain said, in response to the report:

“If we further develop the new ways of working that everyone has adjusted to during the pandemic, including building more flexible working options for employees, there is a real opportunity to increase the diversity of our workforce. This will not only help businesses by harnessing a range of talents, but also help reduce some of the inequality that exists in our society.”