Just like number 9 buses . . .

No reform in employment law for ages - but now a raft of change is planned all at once

Mark McAllister LRA column
Balance is important - and the only way to get it is by being on one of those number 9 buses that are due to arrive imminently (KevinAlexanderGeorge/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

With the Executive and Assembly back up and running, the race is on to get employment legislation reforms in this jurisdiction through before the end of the political mandate.

As a devolved matter, employment law in Northern Ireland has remained relatively static in recent years due to a variety of factors ranging from the small matter of a global pandemic, through to the suspension of the Assembly and a few things in between.

Stakeholders standing on the bus stop of reform have not seen an employment law bus for ages. But now, all of a sudden, there seems to be a fleet of them all arriving at the same time.

Policy reforms around the ‘Good Jobs’ agenda will invariably come in a variety of guises: primary legislation, secondary legislation, codes of practice and good practice and, as yet we are not sure what issue will come in what form.

The minister’s economic vision speech in February gave us a hint of the areas of reform ranging from zero hours contracts through to the law on trade unions. Practitioners in the field often refer to a ‘parity pathway’ whereupon reforms in GB are replicated here and these are usually in areas of least contention such as family friendly law reforms.

It is likely that some parts of our employment law reforms will consist of parity pathway catch-ups whilst others may look to different jurisdictions for inspiration.

Key to all of this will be a consultation from the Department for the Economy which will give a more focused sense of direction in terms of broad policy areas where reform is being considered. This will make for a busy summer of reading and early preparation as government gears up for legislative cogs to be put in motion.

Changes in the realm of employment law are invariably perceived as (in no particular order): progress, bureaucracy, parity, catch-up, too little, too much, too slow, too fast – you get the idea. Change is inevitable and we cannot close our eyes to it, but we can try to exercise our voice to bring a degree of influence to bear.

Mark McAllister

How much influence? That is the great unknown when balancing so many competing interests.

But balance is important, and the only way to get it is by being on one of those number 9 buses that are due to arrive imminently.

So, what do stakeholders do? In the words of Paul Simon – “Get on the bus, Gus”.

  • Mark McAllister is director of employment relations services at the Labour Relations Agency (LRA).