The choice between the policies of the political parties at the forthcoming General Election on 8 June 2017 is wider than it has ever been, with huge implications for employment law. Both the Conservatives and Labour have attempted to appeal to working families as part of the election campaign by highlighting what they would do to protect and strengthen the rights of employees but we thought that we would look beneath the spin at what the three main parties have in store for both workers and employers as part of their election manifestoes.
The Labour Party’s manifesto would represent the biggest single shift in favour of worker’s right in a generation. Some key changes include protecting worker’s rights under European law following Brexit, introducing full employment rights (including unfair dismissal) from the first day of employment and the abolition of Employment Tribunal fees. Some other key proposals include:
- Extending maternity pay to 12 months (currently set at 9 months);
- Doubling paid paternity leave (to four weeks);
- Banning zero hours contracts;
- Repeal of the Trade Union Act, which has imposed higher burdens on trade unions;
- Four new public holidays, which would take the minimum annual leave for a full time worker’s from 28 to 32 days;
- Increasing National Minimum Wage to £10 per hour by 2020;
- Ending the public sector pay cap;
- Rolling out maximum pay ratios of 20:1 in the public sector and companies bidding for public sector contracts;
- Banning unpaid internships;
- Civil enforcement of gender pay gap obligations;
- Clamping down on bogus self-employment including punitive fines for employers; and
- Terminal illness and gender identity being added to the other protected characteristics in discrimination law.
The Liberal Democrats will also keep workers’ EU rights, abolish Employment Tribunal fees and end the public sector pay freeze. Other highlights for employment law from their manifesto include:
- Modernising employment rights to make them fit for the “gig economy”;
- Removing abuse of zero hour contracts (not a total ban) and introducing a formal right to request fixed hours;
- Introducing Paternity, Shared Parental Leave and Flexible Working as rights to employees from their first day of employment;
- Introduction of other protected characteristics under the Equality Act including gender identity and caste discrimination;
- Reviewing the effects of cuts to legal aid (unclear if this will apply to employment law);
- Setting up a review to consult on how to set a genuine living wage across all sectors; and
- Extending reporting obligations to BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual) employment levels and pay gaps.
Despite the headlines the Conservatives’ policies on employment law do not represent a huge divergence from the direction of travel in employment law over the last few years. They are relatively narrow in scope when compared to the other parties and should reassure employers worried about changes to employment law. They include:
- Proper protection for workers in the gig economy (although not very detailed this could be because the Party are waiting from the current review on employment status to be finalised);
- National Living Wage to increase to 60% of median earnings by 2020;
- Listed companies publishing the ratio of executive pay to broader UK workforce pay;
- More data on the pay gap between men and women;
- Continuing to push for an increase in the number of public appointments going to women; and
- Extending discrimination law protection to mental health conditions that are sporadic and fluctuating.
There are some intended changes that the other main parties have not considered such as the state pension age increasing in line with life expectancy and an intention to make it easier for employers to take on parents and carers returning from long periods out of the labour market, as well as the introduction of a phased return to work for mothers returning from maternity leave.
There is no doubt that these are uncertain times for the future of employment law. Whilst all three main political parties have confirmed that they will not change workers’ rights following Britain’s exit from the EU, the fact that Britain will not be subject to new EU law or the Judgments of the European Court of Justice following Brexit means that in the long term the British Government’s ability to affect workers’ rights in this country will be increased significantly once the Brexit negotiations are completed.
The General Election provides a good platform on which to judge the Parties’ intentions in respect of employment law and what they would do with this new flexibility following Brexit.