Back in October of last year, our Employment Update listed the main policies relating to employment law that had been raised at each of the major political parties’ annual conferences (excluding the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish parties). Now, with the campaigns in full swing and the General Election only one week away, how far have these promises been kept, and how many other issues now form part of each party’s manifesto?
Below we provide a summary of the main promises made by each party on employment law issues.
Minimum Wage: previously promised to reach their next goal of £7 per hour (currently £6.50) in the near future, now saying it is “on course” to be £8 per hour by 2020, which just happens to be Labour’s promised target. They will “encourage” employers to pay the living wage.
Zero Hours Contracts: exclusive zero hours contracts to be scrapped. Further steps to eradicate abuse of zero hours contracts are also being considered.
Human Rights: scrap the Human Rights Act 1998 and introduce a British Bill of Rights. This will “break the formal link” between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, making the latter’s judgments advisory and non-binding in the UK only.
Equal Pay: companies with more than 250 employees will be required to publish the difference between the average pay of their male and female employees respectively.
Minimum Wage: to increase to £8 per hour by 2020. Rather than simply increasing fines for employers who fail to pay the minimum wage as previously promised, Labour will give local authorities a greater role in enforcement of the minimum wage. Tax rebates will be offered to employers who sign up to pay the living wage. Publicly listed companies will be obliged to report on whether or not they are paying the living wage.
Atypical Workers: employees who work regular hours for more than 12 weeks will have the right to a regular contract, although Labour have not expanded on how they would prevent employers from simply changing working patterns every 12 weeks. They also no longer expressly state that they will ban exclusivity provisions or terms requiring atypical workers to be available on the off-chance that they will be needed, and have removed their proposed requirement that workers whose shifts are cancelled at short notice be paid compensation.
Employment Tribunal: the current system to be abolished (or perhaps reformed) and a new system to be put in place which ensures all workers have proper access to justice. It is most likely that tribunal fees will be reformed rather than removed given Labour’s promise that costs to the taxpayer will not rise.
Trade Union Rights: no mention has been made of the previously promised public enquiry into blacklisting in the construction industry, but they do state that blacklisting is outdated and has no place in a modern economy.
Employment Tribunal Fees: these will be reviewed with a view to lowering the fees to ensure they do not deter access to justice, but will not be repealed.
Paternity Leave: fathers to be provided with an additional four weeks’ leave to care for children, which would be in additional to shared parental leave.
Minimum Wage: no longer proposing a single national minimum wage for 16 to 17-year-olds and first year apprentices, the Lib Dems now simply want the Low Pay Commission to look at ways of raising national minimum wage. They will also be looking to improve enforcement by HM Revenue and Customs, and set out measures to encourage employers to pay the living wage.
Enforcement: whilst mentioned in the annual conference, the idea of a combined “Workers’ Rights Agency”, made up of the Working Time Directive Section of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the Employment Agency Standards inspectorate and the Gangmaster Licensing Authority, it is not mentioned at all in the manifesto.
Atypical Workers: a formal right to request a fixed contract will be provided to those on zero hour contracts, and they will consult on introducing a right to a contractual pattern of work after a fixed period of time (though they do not go so far as to say what
Working Time: previously stated that the Working Time Regulations would be amended to give trainee doctors, surgeons and medics the proper environment to train and practice, but now not as specific, stating only that some EU directives, including on Working Time, need amending.
Atypical Workers: employees on zero hour contracts to be given a minimum 12 hours’ advance notice of work, which must be paid even if the employer changes their mind about whether the employee is needed. Exclusivity will be banned. Businesses with more than 50 employees would have to offer a contract with fixed hours after one year if requested by an employee.
Discrimination and Equalities: businesses to be given the right to choose to employ British citizens before other nationals. This will presumably require significant changes to the Equality Act 2010.
Human Rights: the UK will withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, and repeal the Human Rights Act to be replaced with a new British Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court will be the final authority on matters of human rights.
Minimum Wage: commitment to turn the national minimum wage into a genuine living wage, with a commitment to make it £10 per hour by 2020.
Working Time: a 35-hour working week will be phased in, aimed at “combatting unemployment by sharing available work more equitably”. No further details of how this would work in practice.
Pay Equality: a cap on bankers’ bonuses to be introduced and enforced, together with proposals aimed at reducing the pay gap between those at the top and those at the bottom in all organisations (a 10:1 ratio has now been specified). Equal pay for men and women to be actively pursued.
Workers’ Rights: the introduction of employee-elected directors in medium and large companies, and a reduction to Employment Tribunal fees.
All in all, the policies are reflective of the promises made in October, and although some proposals have become more detailed others have become more ambiguous. Perhaps this is due to the concerns of all parties that they will have to form a coalition with other parties if they are to govern, in which case certain promises may have to go out of the window.
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UK General Election Polling Day: Thursday 7 May 2015
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This article was first published as part of our Employment Law Update - April 2015. Register above to receive our updates as soon as they are published, directly to your inbox!
This article is offered for general informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Solomon Taylor & Shaw.