Time to get out the crystal ball!
Perhaps it’s just me but a general election seems to come around now more often than my turn to have the in-laws for Christmas (and believe me, my turn seems to come around pretty quick).
As it turns out, polling day is on the same day as our work Christmas party so I intend to quickly discharge my civic duty before the celebrations begin (and after reading our written guidelines on Christmas parties of course!). And like the slightly nerdy employment lawyer that I am, I thought I would peruse the manifestos of the main political parties to find out what reforms they propose to make to employment laws.
A couple of hours and several cups of strong tea later, here is a summary of the key pledges of the main parties in relation to employment laws. (No, really, you are welcome!)
In strictly alphabetical order, lest any bias be perceived:
The current party in power pledge to:
- Lower the age of entitlement to the National Living Wage from 24 to 21 and raise it to £10.50 an hour by 2024.
- Increase the employment allowances for small businesses.
- Improve the working of the apprenticeship levy.
- Strive to achieve “the right regulatory balance between supporting excellent business practice and protecting workers, consumers and the environment”.
- Build on existing employment law with measures that protect those in low paid work and the gig economy.
- Create a single enforcement body to police any abuses of employment law including failure to pay the minimum wage.
- Strengthen the right to request flexible working by making it the default that the request will be granted unless the employer has good reasons not to agree.
- Give workers the right to request a more predictable contract.
- Implement legislation to allow parents to take extended leave for neonatal care and to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave.
- Extend the entitlement to leave for unpaid careers to a week.
Labour’s manifesto promises “extensive reforms” to employment law as part of its pledge to tackle poverty and inequality.
The party pledges to:
- Introduce a “real living wage” of at least £10 an hour for all workers over 16 and help for small business with the extra costs.
- Require large companies to set up an “Inclusive Ownership Fund” whereby up to 10% of a company will be owned collectively by employees.
- Create a Ministry for Employment Rights to give working people a voice at government level.
- Give everyone full rights from day one on the job.
- Introduce a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in the workplace.
- Create a single status of ‘worker’ for everyone apart from the genuinely self-employed, to prevent the evasion of workers’ rights.
- Ban zero hours contracts.
- Extend statutory maternity pay from nine to twelve months, double paternity leave from two weeks to four weeks and increase statutory paternity pay.
- Create four new bank holidays.
- Introduce statutory bereavement leave.
- Require breaks during shifts to be paid (at present there is no right to be paid during breaks, it is down to the employer’s agreement or a workforce agreement).
- Give all workers the right to flexible working.
- Make it unlawful to dismiss pregnant women without prior approval of the inspectorate.
- Require employers to take positive action to close the gender pay gap and pay inequalities underpinned by race and/or disability, and to introduce state enforcement measures.
- Ban unpaid internships.
- End the opt out provision whereby workers can opt out of the maximum 48 hour working week.
- Remove certain restrictions on trade unions and create new rights for trade unions to help working people.
- Move to a 32-hour average working week within the next decade.
The party promises to:
- Consult on setting up a genuine Living Wage across all sectors.
- Establish a Worker Protection Enforcement Authority to protect workers
- Change the law to give flexible working to all from day one.
- Increase statutory paternity leave from two weeks to up to six weeks and ensure that parental leave is a day-one right.
- Require organisations to publish parental leave and pay policies.
- Drive for diversity in business leadership, including pushing for at least 40 per cent of board members being women in FTSE 350 companies.
- Require large companies with more than 250 employees to monitor and publish data on gender, BAME, disability, and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps.
- Promote employee ownership by giving staff in listed companies with more than 250 employees a right to request shares, to be held in trust.
- Strengthen worker participation by requiring large companies to have at least one employee representative on their boards.
- Modernise employment rights so they are fit for the age of the ‘gig economy’, including a new ‘dependent contractor’ employment status with entitlements to basic rights such as minimum earnings levels, sick pay and holiday entitlement.
- Set a 20 per cent higher minimum wage for people on zero-hour contracts to compensate them for the uncertainty of fluctuating hours of work.
- Give a right to request a fixed-hours contract after 12 months for ‘zero hours’ and agency workers, not to be unreasonably refused.
- Strengthen unions to represent workers effectively, including a right of access to workplaces.
As you can see, apart from a lack of detail typical of party manifestos, there are some common threads among the parties’ proposals including:
- the need to review or increase the rate of the national living wage;
- the reform of existing parental leave entitlements to allow for greater flexibility for working parents; and
- more protections for workers in the gig economy.
However, there are also pledges that are more particular to the political party – for example, the Labour Party with its promise to introduce more workforce collective consultation and to strengthen certain trade union powers.
There are, of course, many other political parties, many of which have proposals for reform of employment laws in their manifestos but which, for the sake brevity, I have not referred to here. However, whichever party comes into power, it is likely that employment law reform will be on the cards – whether the elected party will deliver on the reforms laid out in their manifesto is another question altogether and one it is best not to dwell on with 9 days left until polling day!