Employment Law

General Election 2019: Parties publish employment law policies

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Within the last couple of weeks, the three main political parties (the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats) have all published their respective manifestos. Each party has advanced some proposals relating to employment law, the key terms of which we will outline below.
The Conservative Party

  • The party commits to prioritise the “principle of fairness in the workplace” by recognising the implications of the gig economy and introducing measures to protect those in low-paid and casual work.
  • When it comes to Brexit, the party commits to leaving all EU institutions in January 2020, including the European Court of Justice. The party pledges to legislate to ensure a high standard of workers’ rights.
  • The party manifesto discusses a number of policies to combat workplace inequalities. These include: the encouragement of flexible working; making it easier for fathers to take paternity leave and reforming redundancy law to make it harder to mothers return from maternity leave to be dismissed.
  • In terms of immigration the Conservative party places great emphasis on ending freedom of movement and the introduction of a new immigration system. An Australian-style points-based immigration system has been proposed. Other proposals include changes to the Visa entry system and adjusting the parameters for accessing certain social benefits.
  • Various pledges intended to help “level-up” the skills of those struggling to re-enter the workforce have been made. A National Skills Fund has been referred to and proposals relating to benefits in terms of national insurance contributions have been made. The creation of two million new high-quality jobs in clean growth has also been promised.
  • The manifesto mentions a number of measures aimed at increasing take-home pay for lower-paid workers and reducing pay inequality. These include promises to: freeze the rates of income tax, National Insurance and VAT and increase the National Insurance threshold to £9,500 in 2020, with the overall goal of ensuring that the first £12,500 of a person’s earnings are completely free of tax.

The Labour Party

  • The manifesto highlights the importance of fair pay and the party pledges to: introduce a Real Living Wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers aged 16 and over; establish Inclusive Ownership Funds (IOFs) to give employees a stake of up to 10% in their companies; ban unpaid internships; provide a 5% increase in wages for workers in the public sector, followed by year-on-year above inflation pay rises; require those earning £80,000 or more to pay a higher level of income tax, while freezing National Insurance and income tax rates for everyone else.
  • The party pledges to empower workers through the foundation of a new Ministry for Employment Rights and an overall increase in collective bargaining and Trade Union rights and powers.
  • With the expansion of the gig economy, there are a number of proposals intended to increase the security of the self-employed and short-term or casual workers including: giving every worker “full rights” from day one of a job; the creation of a single status of “worker” for everyone except those who self-identify as self-employed in business; banning zero-hours contracts and introducing regular contracts for anyone working over 12 regular hours in the week and enforcing payment for cancelled shifts.
  • The Green New Deal is central to the party’s manifesto. As such, the party has made a number of promises to support workers through the transition to a green economy. These include: the creation of one million unionised jobs in the UK as part of the Green Industrial Revolution.
  • The Party pledges to improve workplace diversity and tackle systemic inequalities through a number of policies and the introduction of dedicated enforcement bodies.
  • The party has made some proposals to reduce working time, including the intention to: reduce average full-time weekly working hours to 32 across the economy within a decade, without loss of pay and to end the opt-out provision for the EU Working Time Directive.
  • On immigration, the party intends to ensure migrant workers benefit from the same rights as all other workers, including full and equal rights from day one and a Real Living Wage and retain freedom of movement if the UK remains in the EU. 

The Liberal Democrat Party

  • The Liberal Democrats propose to overhaul employment rights to bring them in line with the modernising workplace, particularly for workers in the gig economy. A variety of legislative proposals are made, including: the introduction of a “dependent contractor” employment status to sit in between “employment” and “self-employment” and changing the law so that flexible working is open to all from day one in the job and requiring employers to advertise the job as such.
  • The party pledges to: establish an independent review to consult on how to set a genuine living wage and set the minimum wage for people on zero hour contracts at times of normal demand 20% higher, off-setting periods of uncertain hours.
  • A plethora of promises have been made intended to promote diversity in the workplace. Amongst other things, the party pledges to: increase statutory paternity leave to up to six weeks; require organisations to publish parental leave and pay policies an aim for women to make up at least 40% of FTSE 350 board members and implement the recommendations of the Parker Review to increase ethnic minority representation.
  • The party has proposed the introduction of a Skills Wallet, giving every adult in England £10,000 to spend on education and training. Employers will be expected to contribute funds.
  • The manifesto promises to ensure that new technologies are used in ethical and responsible ways. Relevant to employment practice include: the introduction of a Lovelace Code of Ethics to ensure that the use of personal data and artificial intelligence is unbiased, transparent and accurate, and respects privacy and convening a citizens’ assembly to determine when it is appropriate for the government to use algorithms in decision-making.
  • On immigration the Party says that it will: move policymaking on work permits and student visas out of the Home Office and into the Departments for Business and Education; establish a new arms-length, non-political agency to take over processing applications; replace Tier 2 work visas with a more flexible merit-based system; create a new two-year visa for students to work after graduation and abolish the minimum income requirement for spouse and partner visas.

With the election just days away, it won’t be long before we know who the UK’s next government will be at which point it will remain to be seen how many of their manifesto pledges are implemented. Howarths will be continually reviewing any political or policy developments and will update you in the event that anything changes with regards to employment law and practice that you need to be aware of.

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