Pensions and zero hours come into focus with new bills

Two employment-related bills have received Royal Assent this week, one affecting pensions and the other improving the rights of millions of workers to have a say over their working patterns.

Once implemented, the Pensions (Extension of Automatic Enrolment) Act 2023 will lower the age to 18 at which eligible workers must be automatically enrolled into a pension scheme. The current age is 22. The Department for Work and Pensions will launch a consultation on implementing the new measures in due course.

Under the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill, all workers will be given the legal right to request a predictable working pattern, “encouraging workers to begin conversations with their employers”, the government said. The bill gives individuals on atypical contracts – including those on zero-hours contracts – more predictable working hours. 

If a worker’s existing working pattern lacks certainty in terms of the hours they work, the times they work or if it is a fixed-term contract for less than 12 months, they will be able to make a formal application to change their working pattern to make it more predictable. Once a worker has made their request, their employer will be required to notify them of their decision within one month.

Business and trade minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “Although zero-hours contracts can often suit workers who want to work flexibly and employers whose needs vary, it is unfair for anyone to have to put their lives on hold to make themselves available for shifts that may never actually come – this Act helps to end the guessing game.”

Acas is producing a new code of practice that is intended to provide clear guidance on making and handling requests. “This will help workers and businesses understand the law and have constructive discussions around working arrangements that suit them both,” said Acas CEO Susan Clews. “Our draft code will be available for public consultation in the coming weeks, and we encourage all interested parties to respond and let us know their views.”

The government said that the measures in the Act and secondary legislation to come into force in about a year to give employers time to prepare for changes. Matthew Taylor’s 2017 review of modern working practices and the gig economy recommended the introduction of this policy, noting that it would support many workers who currently experience what he called “one-sided flexibility”.

Subject to parliamentary approval, all workers and employees will have this new right once it comes into force. However, they must first have worked for their employer a set period before they make their application. “This period will be set out in regulations and is expected to be 26 weeks,” the government said. “Given the proposals aim to support those with unpredictable contracts, workers will not have had to have worked continuously during this period.”

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