Business

Employment laws in Northern Ireland being left behind due to Stormont power vacuum

New employment policy proposals or new legislation cannot be progressed in Northern Ireland without an Economy Minister, a senior lawyer has said.
New employment policy proposals or new legislation cannot be progressed in Northern Ireland without an Economy Minister, a senior lawyer has said. New employment policy proposals or new legislation cannot be progressed in Northern Ireland without an Economy Minister, a senior lawyer has said.

NORTHERN Ireland’s employment laws are being left behind due to the absence of an executive at Stormont, a leading practitioner has warned.

Ian McFarland is an employment partner at Eversheds Sutherland Belfast. He said the north is increasingly falling behind the pace of new legislation in both the Republic and in Britain.

New employment protections have recently been enacted in Britain, including new legal rights for parents of children requiring neonatal care; the right to unpaid leave for employees with caring responsibilities; protection for workers who receive tips; and increased rights for employees, on or recently returned, from family leave in a redundancy situation.

He said parents across the border in the Republic have also been granted stronger working rights to avail of breastfeeding breaks, and unpaid leave for carers for medical purposes, through provisions in the Work Life Balance Act.

Meanwhile, legislation to introduce new rights and protections for Northern Ireland workers remain on hold due to the lack of a functioning executive.

The list of legislation includes requirements for gender pay gap reporting, allowance for domestic abuse ‘safe leave’, and protections for zero-hours workers.

Last week the Department for the Economy published the ‘10X Delivery Plan 2023/24’, which included commitments to ensure “employment relations framework remains fit for purpose”.

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But Ian McFarland said that without a minister, policy proposals or new legislation cannot be progressed.

“We’ve seen with recent legislation and regulations which have come into force in Great Britain, and the Republic of Ireland how government can support businesses and workers in the workplace and ensure a commitment to issues of diversity, inclusion, and stronger employment rights, particularly for working families.

“However, as employment law is devolved to Northern Ireland, none of the new laws will apply here,” he said.

“That includes the Employment (Allocation of Tips) Act 2023, which is expected to come into force next year and will make it unlawful for employers to withhold tips from staff.

“It also includes stronger protections for parents and caregivers, such as the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act, which will give those who are pregnant or recent returned from family related leave priority status for redeployment opportunities in a redundancy situation.”

The lack of a functioning executive means the north is increasingly falling behind the pace of new legislation in both the Republic and in Britain.
The lack of a functioning executive means the north is increasingly falling behind the pace of new legislation in both the Republic and in Britain. The lack of a functioning executive means the north is increasingly falling behind the pace of new legislation in both the Republic and in Britain.

The employment law expert said the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act, is also due to give families a statutory entitlement to paid leave from work if their baby needs neonatal care.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has utterly changed the world of work and brought with it new challenges and issues for employers and employees to navigate,” said Mr McFarland.

“Governments across these islands are cognisant of this fact and are putting in place new legislation which reflects this new reality.

“While it is positive that the Department for the Economy is progressing with policy proposals to ensure our employment laws are as up to date as possible, only an Economy Minister will be able to bring forward the new legislation that we need in Northern Ireland to deliver for workers and businesses.

“The ongoing political paralysis means that our employment laws will remain outdated and unfit for the new working world.”