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Queen's Speech: Workers’ rights, pensions and immigration

Government announces commitment to the Good Work Plan, pensions dashboards framework and a new migration system, though it is unclear if any of the 26 bills will become law

The government will continue to commit to the proposals set out in the Good Work Plan, based on recommendations from RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor, it was announced in the Queen’s Speech yesterday (14 October).

“My government will take steps to make work fairer, introducing measures that will support those working hard,” the Queen said.

She added that this would ensure employment keeps pace with “modern ways of working” while improving productivity and giving workers access to “rights and protections”.

Briefing notes for the speech said that high UK employment suggests that the “flexible market is working”. However, critics of the gig economy have previously noted that while unemployment rates are low there is a lack of high-quality work across the job market.

On Twitter Taylor wrote: “There is a welcome political consensus around improving working lives. The genuine challenge is making that intention a reality in our complex and changing labour market.”

Julian Cox, head of employment at iLaw, said the announcement offers reassurance to those who are worried about workers’ rights post-Brexit. “With Brexit just around the corner there is a growing fear, whether founded or not, that future governments may undermine the rights of workers. But this commitment to the Good Work Plan seems to suggest otherwise,” he said.

Cox added that employers that use contractors should prepare for potential changes: “Based to some degree on the recommendations of the Taylor Review, this plan will seek to give some clarity to contingent workers engaged via the gig economy and agencies. This will have an impact on employers and those that engage the services of freelancers as well, so they should begin to prepare themselves for this in the near future, as and when the bill passes.”

Yesterday’s speech also outlined the pensions bill, which will create a legislative framework for pensions dashboards to enable people to access information on their pension pots in one place. As part of the bill the government said it would provide more options for employers to support employees, including saving collectively and sharing potential risks.

Pension regulators will also be given greater powers to sanction employers that do not take pension responsibilities seriously and that “recklessly risk” people’s pensions.

Steven Cameron, pensions director at Aegon, welcomed the news that “critical pensions changes are a post-Brexit priority” and encouraged all political parties to support the bill.

“While it remains to be seen if the speech or its constituent bills will be approved by parliament, we call on other parties to support the pensions bill as pensions dashboards and added protections for defined benefit scheme members should have cross-party support,” he said.

“The aspect of the pensions bill of greatest and widest importance is that concerning pensions dashboards. Millions of individuals have multiple pensions in which they’ve built up benefits over their working lives and pensions dashboards will for the first time allow them to see all of these, online, at the touch of a button. This offers a huge opportunity to help millions of individuals better engage with their retirement planning, understanding if they are on track for the retirement they aspire to and, if not, to take action accordingly.”

Cameron added that state pensions must be included in the dashboard.

“For many their state pension is a significant proportion, so while the Queen’s Speech did not refer to this it is vital state pensions are also included in pensions dashboards from day one,” he said.

The speech also addressed plans for a new migration system which will impact businesses hiring individuals from outside the UK in the future.

The government said that it remains committed to ensuring EU citizens currently working and living in the UK have the right to remain. It had previously pledged to end freedom of movement, and the announcement of yesterday’s immigration bill is the first legislative step in making that happen.

The speech provided no further details as to what the new points-based immigration system will look like. But it has been reported that home secretary Priti Patel is considering introducing rules that would favour skilled migrants choosing to take up work in less affluent areas of the UK, including parts of the north of England or certain coastal areas.

The Queen’s Speech lays out the bills that the government will be introducing in the parliamentary session, before the Commons starts to debate its contents and moves to a vote to approve it. However, as the government lacks a parliamentary majority it is unclear if any of the 26 bills will become law.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said the programme, which includes four bills carried over from the last session, demonstrated Brexit is not the limit of the government's ambitions.

"The people of this country don't just want us to sort out Brexit," he said. "This optimistic and ambitious Queen's Speech sets us on a course to make all that happen, and more besides."

But shadow home secretary Diane Abbott described the plans as an "uncosted wish list that the government has no intention and no means to deliver" and called it "nothing more than a pre-election party political broadcast".