General election manifestos: what's being promised?
Employment law takes the colour of politics and this general election has meant a wide raft of proposals in each manifesto. Here's a summary of the commitments set out in the manifestos of the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Modernising employment rights
The Conservatives plan to launch a review to explore how the self-employed can be better supported. This will include improving their access to finance and credit, making the tax system easier to navigate, and examining how broadband can boost home-working. The Conservatives plan to create a single enforcement body, and to crack down on any employer abusing employment law. These should be read alongside existing intentions to enforce the Good Work Plan.
Labour's proposals are more radical. They state that they will roll out sectoral collective bargaining across the economy, bringing workers and employers together to agree legal minimum standards on a wide range of issues, such as pay and working hours that must be followed by every employer. Labour will create a single status of "worker" for everyone, apart from those genuinely self-employed in business on their own account, so that employers can't evade workers' rights. They also intend to ban zero-hour contracts and strengthen 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.
To enforce this they intend to establish a Ministry for Employment Rights For those who are self-employed, Labour will seek to develop tailored support and protections including collective income protection insurance schemes, annual income assessments for those on Universal Credit, and better access to mortgages and pension schemes.
The Liberal Democrats announce their intention to establish a new Worker Protection Enforcement Authority to protect those in precarious work. Flexible working will be open to all from day one in the job unless there are significant business reasons why that is not possible.
They intend to make employment rights fit for the age of the "gig economy". They intend to establish a new "dependent contractor" employment status (between employee and self-employed status) with entitlements to basic rights such as minimum earnings levels, sick pay and holiday entitlement. A 20 per cent higher minimum wage for people on zero-hour contracts will be set to compensate them for the uncertainty of fluctuating hours of work. They also have a right to request a fixed-hours contract after 12 months for "zero hours" and agency workers, which is not to be unreasonably refused. They state that they will review the rules concerning pensions so that those in the gig economy won't lose out, and portability between roles is protected.
The Conservatives promise that they will always prioritise the principle of fairness in the workplace. They state that they will encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to allow it. They will legislate to allow parents to take extended leave for neonatal care, and look at ways to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave. The Conservatives also promise to extend the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers to a week.
Labour plans to help people balance work and family life. Any breaks taken during shifts will be paid, and cancelled shifts will have to be paid for. Under Labour all workers will have the right to flexible working. Labour plans to extend statutory maternity pay from nine to 12 months, double paternity leave from two weeks to four and increase statutory paternity pay. They will introduce statutory bereavement leave, introduce four new bank holidays celebrating our four patron saints' days, and carry out a review of all family-friendly employment rights. Labour also plans to increase redundancy protection, to give statutory rights to equalities representatives, to ban unpaid internships and to set up a Royal Commission to bring health (including mental health) and safety legislation up to date.
The Liberal Democrats promise to increase statutory paternity leave from the current two weeks up to six weeks, ensure that parental leave is a day-one right, and to address continuing inequalities faced by same-sex couples. They also plan to require organisations to publish parental leave and pay policies.
Equality, diversity and Human Rights
The Conservatives pledge that they will tackle prejudice, racism and discrimination and address the complex reasons why some groups do less well at school, earn less at work, or are more likely to be victims of crime. They want to improve the quality of data in Government so they can ensure that fairness is at the heart of everything they do. They also state that they will champion freedom of expression and tolerance, both in the UK and overseas. Finally they promise that the Youth Futures Foundation will invest at least £90 million to improve employment outcomes for young people.
The Labour Party plans to create a new department for Women and Equalities, with a full-time Secretary of State, responsible for ensuring that all UK policies and laws are equality-impact assessed, together with a modernised National Women's Commission as an independent advisory body. The Labour party also affirms their firm commitment to the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Their equality agenda includes:
- A new ground for discrimination in the Equality Act of socio-economic disadvantage.
- The extension of pay-gap reporting to BAME groups.
- Requiring that all employers be trained to better support disabled people, and introducing mandatory disability pay-gap reporting for companies with over 250 employees.
- An update of the Equality Act 2010 to introduce new specific duties including disability leave, paid and recorded separately from sick leave.
- A recommendation that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) prepare a specific Code of Practice on reasonable adjustments to supplement existing codes.
The Liberal Democrats declare in their manifesto that they will stand up for human rights by championing the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Lib Dems state that they will require large employers of 250+ employees to monitor and publish data on gender, BAME and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps. Other commitments include the development of a free unconscious bias training toolkit and making the provision of unconscious bias training to all members of staff a condition of the receipt of public funds; they intend to have a government-wide plan to tackle BAME inequalities and to undertake a review of the funding of the EHRC to ensure that it is adequate. They also plan to outlaw caste discrimination.
The Conservatives pledge to clamp down on late payments and to strengthen the powers of the Small Business Commissioner to support small businesses that are exploited by their larger partners. They will also increase the Employment Allowance for small businesses.
Labour plans to give workers a stake in the companies they work for, and a share of the profits they create. They will do this by requiring large companies to set up Inclusive Ownership Funds (IOFs). Up to 10% of a company will be owned collectively by the employees, with dividend payments distributed equally among all, capped at £500 a year. Labour also requires one-third of boards to be reserved for elected worker-directors and to give them more control over executive pay.
The Liberal Democrats plan to encourage employers to promote employee ownership by giving staff in listed companies with more than 250 employees a right to request shares, to be held in trust for the benefit of employees. They also plan to strengthen worker participation in decision-making, including staff representation on remuneration committees, and to require all UK-listed companies and all private companies with more than 250 employees to have at least one employee representative on their boards with the same legal duties and responsibilities as other directors.
Labour pledges to remove restrictions on trade unions. They will implement strengthening and enforcing trade unions' right of entry to workplaces to organise, meet and represent their members. They will also remove restrictions on industrial action, strengthen the protection of trade union members against unfair dismissal, and repeal the Trade Union Act 2016. Labour plans to simplify the law around union recognition, and to give union representatives adequate time off for union duties.
The Liberal Democrats refer to their intention to strengthen the ability of unions to represent workers effectively in the modern economy, including a right of access to workplaces, but do not go into any fuller detail.
The Conservatives propose a new National Skills Fund to provide funding for high-quality education and training for those who lack qualifications, who are keen to return to work or wish to switch career. How it will work will be consulted on if the Conservatives come into power.
Labour pledges to give everyone a free lifelong entitlement to training up to a Level 3 award in education and training, six years' training at Levels 4-6 and maintenance grants for disadvantaged learners. In addition they will introduce additional entitlements for workers in industries that are significantly affected by industrial transition.
The Liberal Democrats will set up new Skills Wallets which will allow people to retrain and upskill when they need to. This will give people £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lives. Individuals will be able to choose how and when to spend this money on a range of approved education and training courses.
The Conservatives have declared that, post-Brexit, they will introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system with the aim of attracting high-skilled workers, and fewer lower-skilled migrants. They state that they will create bespoke visa schemes for new migrants, such as NHS visas for doctors and nurses, students and start-ups. In addition there will be a policy of actively recruiting the best technology and science graduates from the top universities in the world, and those who win scientific prizes.
Meanwhile Labour states that it will scrap the 2014 Immigration Act, and end the injustices of the Windrush scandal, providing fair compensation to those who have unfairly suffered. If the UK leaves the EU the rights of EU citizens will be subject to negotiation, but Labour states that it will seek to protect the social and economic benefits of free movement.
The Liberal Democrats promise to reform Britain's immigration system. By stopping Brexit they plan to save EU freedom of movement. They also plan to put in place a two-year visa for students to work after graduation.
Tech and entrepreneurs
The Conservatives state that they will support start-ups and small businesses through government procurement and expanding start-up loans. They talk about using their new freedom after Brexit to ensure that British rules work for British companies. They also talk about wanting to see more entrepreneurs, including women and those from BAME backgrounds.
The Liberal Democrats recognise the value of entrepreneurs and the self-employed and state that they will create a new "start-up allowance" to help those starting a new business with their living costs in the first weeks of their business. They also talk about providing a supportive framework to develop social enterprises.
National minimum wage
The Conservatives have already announced an increase in the minimum wage to two-thirds of average earnings, currently forecast at £10.50 an hour. They also propose to widen the scope of the National Living Wage, so that it is available to those aged 21 + (currently 25+).
The Labour Party has plans to introduce a Real Living Wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers aged 16 and over.
The Liberal Democrats declare they will establish an independent review to consult on how to set a genuine Living Wage across all sectors. They state that they will pay this Living Wage in all central government departments and their agencies, and will encourage other public sector employers to do likewise.
Employment tribunals and enforcement of employment rights
The Conservatives have pledged to create a single enforcement body and to crack down on any employer abusing employment law, whether by taking workers' tips or refusing them sick pay.
Labour pledges to keep employment tribunals free, to extend their powers and introduce new Labour Courts with a stronger role for people with industrial experience on panels. It also pledges to introduce a new Workers' Protection Agency to enforce workplace rights, including the Real Living Wage. The Agency will also be given extensive powers to inspect workplaces and bring prosecutions and civil proceedings on workers' behalf.
The Liberal Democrats also plans to set up a body to protect workers' rights, the Worker Protection Enforcement Authority. They also propose to shift the burden of proof in employment tribunals on employment status from individual to employer.
Now it's a case of wait and see…
We can only speculate on which package of measures we're likely to see actually coming into force. Some of the proposals will definitely change the world of work as we know it.