Northern Ireland Employment Law In Brief: It was the Best of Times and 2023

Posted in : Supplementary Articles NI on 3 January 2023
Legal Island
Legal Island
Issues covered: Cost of Living; Trade Unions; NI Protocol and Brexit Freedoms; Holiday Pay

Ah, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Although Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities was written in 1859, 2022 brought nearly as many highs and lows…especially in HR. 

This month’s 'In Brief' focuses on key employment law and HR developments this past year and upcoming priorities. 

Cost of Living

Unfortunately, the cost of living crisis dominated the headlines in 2022 with the HR Director discussing how to spot money struggles in your workplace - with more people struggling to afford utility bills, rent, mortgages and food, this can have a huge impact on an individual’s mental health and overall productivity.

Back in August the HR Director explained that some employees are taking matters into their own hands with an article saying that Half Of Employees Taking On Extra Jobs As Recession Bites. Half of UK workers (52%) are already doing temporary work, or are planning to temp, as a direct result of the surging cost of living, according to research by Indeed Flex. A national survey of UK workers found that a third (32%) are planning to do temporary work on top of their existing job, to top up their income in the face of sharply rising costs.

Legal Island is hosting an event, Key Priorities for HR During a Cost of Living Crisis Reward, Restructuring, Retention and Resilience on the 28 February 2023 to help employers explore some creative ways in which employers can provide support for employees to ensure that they retain their most talented staff; attract new staff and ensure employee wellbeing is maintained.  Be sure to join us.


It would probably be easier to list the occupations that didn’t taken strike action in 2022, but here’s a brief rundown of some of those who have…………

Nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland went on strike in December in the largest action of its kind in NHS history. Staff continued to provide "life-preserving" and some urgent care but routine surgery and other planned treatment was disrupted. The Royal College of Nursing said staff had been given no choice after ministers refused to reopen pay talks but the UK government said the RCN's 19% pay rise demand was unaffordable.

There was wrangling at one of Northern Ireland's largest councils, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon (ABC), between Unions and management in August.

And across the Irish Sea in England and Wales Criminal Barristers Voted for Strike Action back in September. The walkout by members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) began on 5 September. 

The civil service’s biggest union also rejected an offer from the Ministry of Defence to give a 12.85% pay rise to staff over the next three years, saying it would come at the cost of an “unacceptable loss of terms and conditions”.  Changes to terms and conditions would have included staff losing paid meal breaks, cuts to overtime pay and some staff losing 1.5 days’ leave.

Meanwhile, luxury London department store Harrods hit the headlines when the Daily Mail claimed they were allegedly the first employer to take advantage of controversial new laws allowing agency workers to be hired to stand in for striking workers.  In July, ministers lifted a ban on temporary staff being allowed to replace striking workers. It came after unions staged Britain's biggest rail strike in 30 years. 

What Is The Current Law on Strikes in Northern Ireland? Mark McAllister of the LRA answers this important question for tricky economic times. And catch up with Mark when he joined Seamus McGranaghan on O’Reilly Stewart solicitors for a cameo appearance in Employment Law at 11 talking all things trade union and strikes.

The NI Protocol and ‘Brexit Freedoms’

Back in January 2022 Lewis Silkin reminded us that while there is a renewed focus on reviewing the customs elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol following Liz Truss’ (remember her?!) appointment as Foreign Secretary and the prospect of an Assembly election, Ciara Fulton pointed out that it is important to remember the important role the Protocol plays in securing the employment and equality protections which were so central to securing peace in Northern Ireland under the Belfast or “Good Friday” Agreement. Ciara’s insight summarised the key employment aspects of Article 2 and its potential implications for employment and equality law in Northern Ireland.

But remember this area of law has been changing almost week to week, so keep up to  date with Ciara’s more recent article on What Might the Brexit Freedoms Bill Mean for Employment Law in Northern Ireland? Liz truss (her again!) and her then Brexit Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg promised a ‘bonfire of workers rights’ – but will it happen? Seamus McGranaghan of O’Reilly Stewart discussed this very topic with Legal Island’s Christine Quinn back in October 2022. Make sure to catch up!

Holiday Pay

The 2022 Judgement in the case of Harpur Trust -v- Brazel the Supreme Court clarified the correct method for calculating holiday pay entitlement for an employee with no fixed working pattern. This judgment has ramifications for employers with employees and workers on zero hours contracts with no fixed working pattern across a wide range of sectors. Employers in the education, hospitality, retail, health and social care sectors are more likely to be impacted. Alexander Redpath of Kennedys explains the ins and outs on Legal Island’s Hub.

And what about Agnew? It was before the Supreme Court in December, and we eagerly await the decision.  As always, we will be on hand to provide a critique of the judgment as soon as it hits our desk! Jason Elliott BL will write a comprehensive case review and Michelle McGinley and Kathryn O'Lone of the Employers Federation will join us for a seminar to dissect the outcome and what it means for you!

This article is correct at 03/01/2023

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

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