General Election 2019 | The parties’ proposals for employment law

With just over two weeks to go until one of the most anticipated General Elections in UK history, both parties’ manifestos are undergoing intense scrutiny – but what pledges are on the table for employment law?

Before you cast your vote, here are some of the main policies each side are proposing that stand to impact the employer-employee relationship.

Conservatives

Cutting through all the talk surrounding Brexit, the party’s manifesto proposes to “make the UK the best place in the world to work”. Their manifesto can be found here, with employment-related points scattered throughout.

If re-elected, their pledges include:

Lowering the age limit for the National Living Wage (the highest rate of the National Minimum Wage) from 25 to 21, and raising it from £8.21 to around £10.39 per hour by 2024.
Cracking down on employers abusing employment law by creating a single enforcement body to ensure workers’ rights are upheld.
Giving workers the right to request a more predictable contract and other reasonable protections.
Encouraging flexible working by consulting on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to (rather than putting the onus on employees to argue their case).
Reducing the disability employment gap by "looking into" ways to improve access to employment (the manifesto does not detail firm plans) According to TUC calculations, the current disability pay gap for all employees stands at 15.5%, and despite the party’s 2015 manifesto promising to halve the disability employment gap, very little progress has been made.
Investing £3bn in a “National Skills Fund” aimed at ensuring employers can find and hire the workers they need, helping those without qualifications get onto the work ladder, and facilitating a return to work after taking time out to raise a family or switch careers.
Supporting working parents by allowing them to take extended leave for neonatal care, strengthening redundancy protections for new mothers, and “looking into” ways to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave.
Raising employment allowance from £3,000 to £4,000 a year so that businesses and charities pay less national insurance on their employees’ wages.

The manifesto also expands on how the Conservatives’ “Australian-style” points-based immigration system will work, confirming that it will prioritise people who “have a good grasp of English, have been law-abiding citizens in their own countries, and have good education and qualifications”. It also clarifies that most people coming into the country will need a clear job offer.

Labour

Labour’s plans aim to tackle job insecurity in the UK and extend workers’ rights. Their manifesto can be found here, with employment issues covered on pages 59–64.

Their pledges include:

Giving workers a stake in the companies they work for by requiring large companies to set up “inclusive ownership funds” where up to 10% of said companies would be owned by the workers.
Establishing a Ministry for Employment Rights, which would give these issues a place in the government cabinet and oversee “a huge rollout of individual and collective rights at work”. This would be enforced through the introduction of a new, unified Workers’ Protection Agency tasked with ensuring that all workers receive the rights and protections that they are entitled to. The Workers' Protection Agency would also be given “extensive powers to inspect workplaces and bring prosecutions and civil proceedings on workers’ behalf”.
Introducing a "Real Living Wage" of at least £10 per hour in 2020 for all employees aged 16 and over.
Creating a fresh status of worker that would apply to all workers except those who are “genuinely self-employed in business on their own account”. This would put a stop to “bogus self-employment” and “ensure employers cannot evade workers’ rights” by banning gig economy companies from classifying workers as self-employed when they are in fact an employee in all but name.
Banning zero-hour contracts and strengthening 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. This will also require employers to pay workers for any shifts that are cancelled without proper notice.
Requiring breaks during shifts to be paid. At present, there is no such requirement and it is up to employers to specify this in the worker’s Contract of Employment.
Cutting average full-time weekly working hours to 32 within 10 years and giving workers the right to flexible working in an attempt to improve work-life balance.
Giving all workers full employment rights from day one of the job. At present, the rights workers have is determined by their employment status and length of service.
Extending statutory maternity pay from nine to 12 months and enhancing pregnancy protection (including banning dismissal of pregnant women without prior approval of the inspectorate) in a bid to improve the treatment of women at work. It will also double paternity leave to four weeks.
Reintroducing employers' liability for harassment by third parties, a provision that was removed from the Equality Act by the Conservative government in October 2013.
Strengthening trade union rights by allowing unions to use electronic balloting, giving them greater access to workplaces, and repealing the Trade Union Act 2016.
Keeping Employment Tribunals free, extending their powers, and introducing new Labour Courts with a stronger role for people with industrial experience on panels.

With both Labour and the Conservatives proposing some extensive changes to current employment laws and regulations, there is a lot for employers to weigh up before 12 December. Labour’s manifesto promises a real shake-up of current employment law provisions, which has the potential for wide-reaching positive change but may be unnerving for employers, who will be forced to adapt. Meanwhile, the central mantra of “get Brexit done” somewhat overshadows talk of employment law reform in the Conservative’s manifesto, and while they are promising to elevate workers’ rights, the priority is clearly “taking back control”.

As is the way with election manifestos, there isn’t a huge amount of detail about how these pledges will be implemented or how they would ultimately look. Whether all or any of these can be implemented will very much depend on the outcome of the election and whether either of the main parties can gain a significant majority. Most commentators agree that this is perhaps the hardest election to call in some time. 

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