Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry today announced the completion in the Assembly of the Final Stage of his Department’s Employment Bill.
The Bill is part of a package of measures, resulting from the Department’s extensive review of employment law, intended to contribute positively to a local employment relations framework that is fair, effective and balanced in respect of the needs of business and the rights of employees.
Minister Farry said: “This Bill will establish a framework for strengthening employment protections and will support the earlier resolution of workplace disputes where that is feasible. It will also underpin important work to enhance job opportunities for our young people.
“Getting the right balance will require partnership and a degree of flexibility if we are to maintain an employment relations system that enhances competitiveness and also offers employees a positive and supportive working environment. I believe that this Bill delivers all of these.”
Speaking about the Bill’s measures to strengthen the delivery of impartial careers guidance and to upskill the workforce through apprenticeships and traineeships, the Minister continued: “This Bill is of significant importance in the wider economic context. It will ensure that our young people have the support they need to make informed decisions about their future and the skills to pursue their career ambitions.
“The Employment Bill establishes a legislative requirement on the Department to deliver careers guidance on an impartial basis in the best interests of the person receiving it – embedding delivery on a clear statutory foundation.
“It is my view that supporting businesses is entirely compatible with having in place a robust system of employment protections, systems which support good employment relations and measures that support investment in our young people’s talent.
“The Bill empowers the Department, in regulations, to set out the components of and conditions under which traineeships and apprenticeships will operate in Northern Ireland. These new arrangements will help to deliver the highly skilled employees required to support the Northern Ireland economy both now and in the future.”
The Bill was developed following a wide ranging consultation process that took place during 2013/2014. It contains some important additional provisions including power to allow regulations to be made in the future to address issues relating to zero hours contracts. It also sets a framework that will require employers to disclose information relating to the pay of their male and female employees and will lead to the introduction of a strategy on eliminating differences in pay between men and women.
The Minister said: “I am pleased that the Assembly has agreed to include in the Bill powers which will allow action to be taken to deal with abuses of zero hours contracts. The legislation is not prescriptive but will enable regulations to be made about how zero hours arrangements are to be dealt with in future. This is a welcome approach which will allow proportionate and considered measures to be developed following further consultation.”