Election fever is gripping the nation, and the parties vying for our votes have now set out their aims and promises to the electorate in their manifestos. We’ve saved you a lot of reading and picked through the rhetoric to bring you the key manifesto pledges affecting employment law from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party.
The Conservatives have billed their manifesto as the "greatest expansion in workers' rights by any Conservative government in history". Their key pledges are to:
- maintain EU-derived employment rights post-Brexit;
- extend rights by offering a year’s unpaid leave to carers, two weeks’ statutory child bereavement leave to parents, and additional support for those returning to work after family leave;
- extend discrimination protection for those with mental health problems;
- take further action to address the gender pay gap and ethnicity pay gap;
- increase the personal income tax exemption to £12,500;
- increase the National Living Wage rate to 60 per cent of median hourly earnings by 2020, which works out at roughly £8.75 per hour, and tighten rules around shareholder control of executive remuneration;
- continue the Taylor review into employment status and introduce (as yet unspecified) new protections for workers in short-term contracts or freelance work; and
- secure worker representation on boards for listed companies.
The Labour party has proposed a comprehensive reform of employment law including:
- preserving all existing EU law rights post-Brexit;
- making all existing employment rights "day one" rights, including unfair dismissal rights, and extending them to workers;
- abolishing employment tribunal fees and extending time limits from 3 to 6 months for maternity discrimination;
- increasing maternity and paternity rights and introducing statutory bereavement leave;
- improving equality law, gender pay gap compliance and introducing ethnicity pay gap reporting;
- increasing the national living wage to at least £10 per hour by 2020, removing the 1% pay cap on public-sector pay, and introducing an excessive salary levy (so called “fat cat tax”);
- adding four new public holidays to the calendar for the patron saint of each country;
- banning zero hours contracts, introducing a presumption of employee status for workers, and introducing a right for regular casual workers to have a fixed hours contract;
- strengthening union rights in the workplace; and
- banning unpaid internships.
The Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrat manifesto indicates they would introduce changes to “modernise employment rights to make them fit for the age of the gig economy”. Key pledges are to:
- support continued freedom of movement for EU nationals;
- abolish tribunal fees;
- make flexible working, paternity and shared parental leave "day one" rights;
- create an additional month's leave for fathers and extend free childcare places;
- refine gender pay gap reporting obligations to highlight the ratio between top and median rates of pay;
- introduce pay gap reporting in relation to gender, race and sexual orientation and introduce name-blind recruitment in the public sector;
- prevent the abuse of zero hours’ contracts and giving workers the right to ask for a fixed contract after a certain period; and
- launch a review into what a “genuine living wage” should be and then implement it, and remove the 1% pay cap on public-sector pay.
The Scottish National Party
And finally, the SNP were the last of the major parties to release their manifesto, promising to “make work fair”. They have indicated that they will press for full devolution of employment policy, as well as:
- support a repeal of the Trade Union Act 2016;
- advocate for an increase in the national living wage to £10 per hour by 2020;
- remove the 1% public sector pay cap;
- ban zero hours contracts;
- target reducing National Insurance by doubling the NI discount available to businesses to reduce the cost in taking on new workers from £3,000 to £6,000 in a business year;
- seek devolution of immigration powers in light of Brexit and the implementation of a post-study work visa scheme to allow international students to work in Scotland after qualifying;
- review all workplace leave entitlements (this apparently refers to family friendly rights such as maternity leave etc.);
- argue for the implementation of pay gap reporting on ethnicity and disability, with an enforcement mechanism for non-compliance;
- implement a ban on separate workplace dress codes (inevitably targeting the spate of recent high heels and make up types of cases that have come to light); and
- enshrine the right to breastfeed at work.
With such a rainbow of rights on offer, the parties contesting this general election are placing a strong emphasis on winning votes by attracting employers and employees alike. It is clear that the contrast between the parties in some aspects is stark. Regardless of the outcome, it is certain that there will either be a tinkering with employment law or a radical overhaul for employers to take into account moving forward. One feels that employment lawyers may have to sign a 48 hour Working Time Regulations opt out soon!