General Election 2019: the parties’ employment law promises

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Conservatives

The Conservative manifesto sets its stall out early by stating that there is no contradiction between high employment rates on the one hand, and high standards on the other. The Conservatives have pledged to:

  • Strike the right balance between the flexibility for the economy and security for employees. This includes encouraging flexible working and making it the employer’s default position.
  • Allow workers to request “a more predictable contract and other reasonable protections”.
  • Take forward several recommendations from the Taylor Review and that will build on existing employment law with measures protecting those in low paid work and the gig economy.
  • Prioritise the ‘principle of fairness in the workplace’. This includes ensuring a harder line is taken when employers abuse employment law, such as failing to provide sick pay.
  • Legislate to give parents the opportunity to take extended leave for neonatal care.
  • Increase the NIC threshold to £9500 in 202.
  • Launch a review into how the Government can better support the self-employed. This includes improving their access to finance and credit, simplifying the navigation of the tax system and improving access to broadband.

Labour

Labour’s manifesto includes detailed proposals which, if implemented, would be a significant movement in employment rights within the UK and have major implications for all employers. The Labour party has pledged to:

  • Establish a UK Ministry for Employment Rights, which would oversee sectoral collective bargaining between employees and employers to agree a legal minimum standard on a wide range of working conditions.
  • Strengthen protections for whistle-blowers and rights against unfair dismissal for all workers, with extra protections for pregnant women, those going through the menopause and terminally ill workers.
  • End “bogus” self-employment by creating a single status of ‘worker’ for everyone apart from those genuinely self-employed in business on their own account, thereby removing the distinction between those with “employee” and “worker” status.
  • Introduce a statutory Real Living Wage of £10 an hour to be paid to all employees over the age of 16 by the year 2020.
  • Implement an outright ban on unpaid internships.
  • Enforce a maximum pay ratio of 20:1 in the public sector.
  • Ban overseas-only recruitment practices.
  • Introduce a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces.
  • Ban zero-hours contracts and strengthen the law, so that those who work regular hours for more than 12 weeks will have a right to a regular contract, reflecting those hours.
  • Require breaks during shifts to be paid.
  • Establish an independent Working Time Commission to advise on raising minimum holiday entitlements and reducing weekly working time.
  • Require one-third of seats on company boards to be reserved for elected worker-directors and give them more control over executive pay.
  • Require cancelled shifts to be paid and appropriate notice for changes in working hours.
  • Give all workers the right to flexible working.
  • Extend statutory maternity pay from 9 to 12 months.
  • Double paternity leave to four weeks and increase statutory paternity pay.
  • Introduce statutory bereavement leave.
  • Introduce new bank holidays on each of the UK home nation patron saint days.
  • Conduct a review for family friendly employment rights.
  • Require employers to implement plans to eradicate the gender pay gap and pay inequalities underpinned by race and/or disability. This will be enforced by a civil enforcement system to ensure employer compliance with gender pay auditing.
  • Increase protection against redundancy.
  • Give statutory rights to equalities representatives.
  • Toughen the law against violence and abuse towards public facing workers.

Liberal Democrats

  • The Liberal Democrats claim to rest squarely in the middle of both the Conservatives and Labour. They have accused The Conservatives of not doing enough for workers and Labour of looking backwards in time. The Liberal Democrats have pledged to:
  • Modernise employment rights to make them ‘fit for the age of the gig economy’.
  • Establish a ‘dependent contractor’ status, which would catch those between employment and self-employment. This status will be accompanied by basic employment rights such as minimum earnings, sick pay and holiday entitlement.
  • Review the NIC and tax system to ensure ‘fair and comparable’ treatment between those employed and the self-employed.
  • Change the law so that flexible working is available to everyone from day one, unless there are significant business reasons why that will not be possible.
  • Establish a Worker Protection Enforcement Authority to protect those in precarious work.
  • Keep zero hours contracts but introduce a 20% wage premium on those under these contracts at times of normal demand, to compensate the workers for unpredictable hours. The party hopes it will incentivise employers to move workers onto fixed hours where it makes sense to do so.
  • Give those working a zero-hours contract and agency workers the right to request a fixed-hours contract after 12 months of employment.
  • Shift the burden of proof from the individual to the employer, in employment tribunals regarding employment status.
  • Introduce a right of access to the workplace for unions.

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru’s manifesto is largely orientated towards the desire to remain within the EU. There is limited reference to specific changes to employment rights in their manifesto, given that employment law is not devolved to Wales. Of relevance to HR and employers, Plaid Cymru has pledged to:

  • Promote policies to tackle youth unemployment, brain drain and poverty.
  • Expand existing EU equality law, prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the workplace to other areas such as healthcare, education, social protection and access to goods and services.
  • Promote economic independence for women by strengthening existing EU equality legislation, guaranteeing individual rights to social protection and taxation, ending gender pay and pension gaps and providing social care, parental leave and childcare.
  • Recognise the precarious nature of youth employment. This means demanding immediate action on the protection of existing labour rights and decent incomes for all ages.
  • Ban unpaid internships.
  • Implement a Youth Guarantee Scheme which will ensure that all young people below the age of 25 have access to education, training or employment opportunities.

Conclusion

What is clear from the various parties’ manifestos is that the outcome of this year’s general election will be of major significance to employers, not only in determining the future outcome of Brexit, but also in terms of the future direction of employment law and other workplace rights. Whatever the outcome of the election, employers need to be prepared for significant changes in the next Parliament and there is no indication from any other parties likely to form a government of any deregulation of working rights in the foreseeable future.