Stormont Return: Three Ways Employment Law May Change

Dylan Loughlin

Government has once again been restored in Northern Ireland, as the DUP ended their 2-year boycott of the devolved institutions. Over the coming weeks and months, we are likely to see some decisions and changes which have far-reaching impacts on workers’ rights, businesses and employment law.

Here are some of the things we will be looking out for;

Further Alignment of NI Employment Law with The Law In The Republic Of Ireland

Having won the most seats in the NI Assembly Elections of 2022, Sinn Féin had the first choice of Ministerial Portfolios under NI’s D’Hondt System, where they subsequently nominated Conor Murphy, the previous Finance Minister (2020-22), for Minister of the Department of the Economy.

Employment Law is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland, and so we have a different system and laws for both GB & ROI. The Department for the Economy is responsible for Employment Law in NI as well as the administration of the NI Employment Tribunal Service.

Given Sinn Féin’s long-term goal of Irish Unity, will they take this opportunity to increase regulatory alignment in the field of Employment Law, between Ireland North & South?

If so, some of the things we could see in the three years that remain of this Assembly Mandate (assuming it lasts that long) are the banning of zero-hour contracts, which came into force in the South in 2019, and the requirement for Gender Pay Gap Reporting, which became mandatory in ROI in 2022, for all organisations with 250+ employees.

Paid Leave For Victims Of Domestic Abuse

The Domestic Abuse and Safe Leave bill passed the final stages in the final weeks of the last assembly mandate, following a private members bill by former Green Party MLA Rachel Woods.

It makes provisions for victims of domestic abuse to receive up to 10 days full pay as a day 1 right, should they need to take time off work, or ‘safe leave,’ as a result.

While it received royal assent in May 2022, the legislation still needs to be made operational which requires regulations to be put in place by the Department for the Economy. Civil servants were likely drafting these while the institutions weren’t sitting and we’d expect them to be near ready to go, so we should expect to see this one fairly quickly.

Electronic Tribunal Bundles

Okay, so this one may be more of a wishlist item! But hear us out…

At the end of 2022, the Employment Tribunal in England & Wales underwent a digital transformation process which culminated in the introduction of a fully paperless online case management system.

The implementation of such a system in NI would improve efficiency within the tribunal service, as well as drastically reducing the amount of paper waste created, which given the detailed nature of employment tribunal bundles, is quite a lot!

Importantly, an online case management system could significantly reduce costs and time resources for businesses involved in tribunal representation, which would be welcome, especially by small businesses such as ourselves given rising costs and the difficult operating environments we all find ourselves in at the moment.

We wrote to former Economy Minister Dianne Dodds in February 2022 asking her to implement an online case management system, and we’ll be lobbying the new Economy Minister in due time.

Copacetic Business Solutions offers a range of Workforce Support Services, including HR Advice, H&S Audits, Employment Tribunal Representation and Bespoke Documentation.

Get in touch today for any workplace issues.