UK Labour Acts

April 9th 2024

The labour landscape in the United Kingdom is composed of a series of legislative Acts aimed at safeguarding the rights of employees in workplaces. Labour Acts are essential in ensuring fair treatment, preventing discrimination, and maintaining favourable working conditions across different industries. 

By examining each act closely, this article aims to explain their significance, how they are enforced, and their impact on both employers and employees. Without any more delay, let’s have a look at the UK Labour Acts.

This article covers:

Act vs. Law: What’s the Difference?

Now, before we head straight to the legislative Acts that affect labour in the UK, let’s first differentiate Acts and Laws. These two are sometimes used synonymously but there has to be some sort of difference, right?

Well, the difference mainly lies in its legal scope.

In simple terms, an Act is a specific law that has been approved by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and granted Royal Assent by the Monarch. On the other hand, the term “law” encompasses a broader system of rules and regulations created and enforced by a governing authority.

Acts are specific pieces of legislation within the larger framework of laws that govern a jurisdiction. Every Act can be considered a law, but not all laws can be Acts.

While breaking an Act may result in fines or imprisonment, violating broader laws can lead to severe consequences, impacting individuals and organizations alike.

Hopefully, that clears things up. If you want to delve deeper into labour laws in the UK, you will find our guide on UK Labour Laws very comprehensive.

Which Acts Affect Labour in the UK?

Several Acts significantly influence labor and employment in the United Kingdom. These Acts include the following:

  • Equality Act 2010
  • Employment Relations Act 1999
  • The Health and Safety at Work Act etc. 1974
  • National Minimum Wage Act 1998

These Acts collectively form the foundation of employment law in the UK, providing a framework that balances the rights and obligations of employers and employees, while promoting fair and ethical practices in the workplace.
To fully understand the impact of these Acts on labor and employment in the United Kingdom, let’s delve into each one in more detail.

1. Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 is a framework that shields individuals from discrimination, both within workplaces and in wider society. This UK labour act clearly outlines the specific ways in which treating someone unfairly is deemed unlawful. Enacted in 2010, the Equality Act combined different anti-discrimination laws into one, making it more effective and easier to understand. Before this, there were separate laws like the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, Race Relations Act of 1976, and Disability Discrimination Act of 1995, each focusing on specific types of discrimination.

Who Is Protected Under the Equality Act?

The Equality Act 2010 clarifies and defines different forms of discrimination based on various characteristics which include:

  • Age: Protection against discrimination based on age ensures fairness across different age groups, both younger and older individuals. This means that individuals should not be unfairly treated, denied opportunities, or face prejudice due to their age. 
  • Disability: The Act safeguards individuals with physical or mental disabilities, ensuring fair treatment and accommodations to enable them to participate fully in society. 
  • Gender Reassignment: Individuals undergoing or who have undergone gender reassignment are protected from discrimination. Being protected from gender reassignment discrimination includes any stage of transitioning, whether considering, undergoing, or completing the process, without the need for medical procedures or legal documentation like a Gender Recognition Certificate.
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership: This characteristic ensures that individuals are treated equally, regardless of whether they are married, in a civil partnership, or not in a formal relationship at all. It prevents discrimination against individuals based on their marital status or choice of partnership.
  • Pregnancy and Maternity: Pregnant women, those on maternity leave, or dealing with childbirth are protected from discrimination. Employers must not treat women unfavourably due to pregnancy-related issues, and they must ensure that women are provided with necessary maternity rights, including maternity leave, pay, and the right to return to work.
  • Race: Preventing discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or nationality is a fundamental aspect of the Act. Individuals should not face unfair treatment or prejudice due to their racial or ethnic background. 
  • Religion or Belief: This protection ensures fair treatment based on an individual’s religious beliefs or philosophical convictions. Individuals should not be discriminated against, harassed, or treated unfairly due to their religion, faith, or belief system. 
  • Sex: Protection against discrimination based on biological sex ensures equal treatment regardless of gender. It prohibits discrimination in various aspects, including recruitment, pay, promotion, and training opportunities.
  • Sexual Orientation: The Act safeguards individuals from discrimination due to their sexual orientation. It ensures that people are treated fairly regardless of their sexual orientation, whether heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

2. Employment Relations Act 1999

The Employment Relations Act 1999 stands as a cornerstone in the UK legal framework. The act represents the restructuring of employment laws. It focuses on ensuring fair recognition of trade unions, preventing discrimination, strengthening family-related rights, and simplifying procedures related to industrial action. Ultimately, it aims to establish fairness in workplaces, protect individual rights, and foster positive relationships between employers and employees.

What are the Provisions of the Employment Relations Act?

The Employment Relations Act (ERA) 1999 encompasses a wide array of provisions that shape the landscape of employment relations in the UK, covering various areas of trade unions, leave for family and domestic reasons, disciplinary and grievance hearings, other rights of individuals, institutional bodies, and miscellaneous matters. Here’s an overview of its main provisions:

Trade Unions

  • Collective Bargaining: The ERA 1999 highlights the significance of collective bargaining by mandating the recognition of trade unions within workplaces. It ensures that employers engage in negotiations and discussions with trade unions representing their employees. Recognition of these unions allows for fair discussions concerning terms and conditions of employment. 
  • Detriment Related to Trade Union Membership: The Act explicitly prohibits any form of detrimental treatment related to an individual’s trade union membership. It safeguards employees from being unfairly treated, discriminated against, or subjected to disadvantageous conditions due to their affiliation with a trade union.
  • Blacklists: The Act firmly prohibits the use of blacklists within employment contexts. It explicitly prohibits employers from compiling or using lists that discriminate against individuals based on their trade union activities or membership.

Leave For Family and Domestic Reasons

  • Maternity and Parental Leave: The Act establishes crucial rights for employees regarding maternity and parental leave. It ensures that individuals have the opportunity to take time off work to manage family responsibilities during significant life events such as childbirth or adoption. Maternity leave provisions allow mothers to recuperate after childbirth, while parental leave acknowledges the importance of parental involvement in childcare responsibilities.
  • Time Off For Domestic Incidents: The Act recognizes the unpredictability of family emergencies and provides employees with the right to take time off for domestic incidents. This provision enables individuals to manage unforeseen family situations without facing adverse consequences in their employment. It acknowledges the importance of flexibility in balancing work commitments with unexpected family responsibilities.

Disciplinary and Grievance Hearings

The Act prioritises fairness and safeguarding employees in disciplinary and grievance scenarios. It allows individuals to have support by being accompanied during these hearings, empowering them during difficult situations. Moreover, it establishes transparent methods for filing complaints with employment tribunals, offering a means for employees to seek recourse if they encounter unfair treatment or dismissal stemming from grievances or disciplinary matters.

Protections From Unfair Dismissal of Striking Workers

The Act includes provisions addressing the unfair dismissal of employees who participate in lawful industrial action. It ensures that employees engaged in strikes or industrial actions in compliance with legal requirements are protected from unfair dismissal by their employers. This provision recognizes the right of employees to participate in lawful strikes without facing undue repercussions in their employment status.

3. Health and Safety at Work Act etc. 1974

The Health and Safety at Work Act etc. 1974, commonly known as HSWA or HSW Act, acts as a legal structure aimed at advancing and safeguarding the well-being, safety, and welfare of individuals in the workplace. It covers an extensive array of duties and responsibilities applicable to employers, employees, contractors, and even those self-employed, all aimed at guaranteeing safety within work environments. Its main aim is to avert accidents, injuries, and job-related illnesses by setting forth clear guidelines and standards for workplace safety.

What Are the Key Provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act?

The HSWA covers crucial aspects to ensure the safety and wellbeing of employees. These aspects include:

  • Employer Responsibility in Employees’ Health and Safety: Employers must ensure the health, safety, and welfare of employees and others affected by work activities, providing safe equipment, systems, and training.
  • Risk Assessment and Prevention: Employers need to regularly assess workplace risks and take steps to reduce or eliminate them.
  • Employee Engagement in Safety Procedures: Employees are responsible for following safety procedures, using equipment correctly, and engaging in health and safety training.
  • Accident Reporting and Record-Keeping: Employers must report and investigate accidents, maintain records of safety inspections, and risk assessments.

4. National Minimum Wage Act 1998

The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 ensures fair pay for workers by setting minimum wage rates tailored to different age groups. Its goal is to prevent exploitation by establishing a foundation for fair wages, covering apprentices, under-18s, 18 to 20-year-olds, and those over 21, known as the National Living Wage.

This Act promotes fair compensation practices by requiring employers to adhere to specific minimum wage rates aligned with their employees’ ages. It encouraged an environment where workers, regardless of age or experience, receive equitable pay. Beyond benefiting individuals, it contributes to economic stability, supporting a balanced workforce and decreasing income disparities.

Compliance with the National Minimum Wage Act is mandatory for employers. Adhering to the specified wage rates is essential to uphold ethical employment standards and avoid legal consequences. The Act significantly shapes wage norms in various industries, emphasising the need to follow these regulations for a fair and just work environment.

Who Does the National Minimum Wage Act Apply to?

The National Minimum Wage Act applies to employees of the following groups:

  • Adults: The standard minimum living wage rate applies to workers aged 21 and over.
  • Young Workers: There are separate rates for workers aged 18-20.
  • Apprentices: Apprentices under the age of 19 or those in the first year of their apprenticeship are entitled to a lower minimum wage.

Who Is Exempt From the National Minimum Wage?

There are certain employees who are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage. These employees are:

  • Self-employed Individuals: Those running their own business and not classified as workers or employees under the Act.
  • Company Directors: Directors who do not have contracts for payment for work.
  • Volunteers or Voluntary Workers: Individuals who volunteer without a contract to perform work for an employer.
  • Workers on Government Employment Programs: Individuals enrolled in government programs like the Work Programme.
  • Members of the Armed Forces: Personnel serving in the military.
  • Family members living in the employer’s home: Relatives residing in the employer’s household and involved in family duties or business.
  • Non-family Members in the Employer’s Home: Individuals residing in the employer’s home, considered part of the family, and not charged for meals or accommodation (e.g., au pairs).
  • Workers Younger Than School Leaving Age: Typically, individuals under the age of 16.
  • Higher and Further Education Students on Work Experience: Students engaged in work experience or placements for up to one year as part of their educational programs.
  • People Shadowing Others at Work: Observers or individuals participating in shadowing without being employed.
  • Workers on Government Pre-apprenticeship Schemes: Those engaged in specific government pre-apprenticeship initiatives.
  • Participants in Certain European Union Programs: Individuals involved in programs such as Leonardo da Vinci, Erasmus+, and Comenius.
  • People on Jobcentre Plus Work Trials: Individuals participating in work trials facilitated by Jobcentre Plus for up to 6 weeks.
  • Share Fishermen: Individuals involved in share fishing.
  • Prisoners: Those working while they are imprisoned.
  • People Living and Working in Religious Communities: Individuals residing and working within religious communities.

Important Cautionary Note

This content is provided for informational purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, we cannot guarantee that it is free of errors or omissions. Users are advised to independently verify any critical information and should not solely rely on the content provided.