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7 June 2017

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General Election 2017: Employment law and the main manifestos

Posted by: Russell Brown

Unsure how the 2017 manifestos from Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats fare against employment law issues? Read our brief guide to the key proposed changes.

With voting on the general election due to commence within the next 24 hours our thoughts are beginning to focus on the key issues which we consider to be of importance. Brexit and national security are sure to be high on most voters’ list along with the usual issues such as healthcare, welfare, education, housing and the environment. With the exception of those of us who deal with it on a day to day basis however, employment law doesn’t appear to feature too highly in the top concerns of most voters according to the final Ipsos MORI/Economist Issues Index prior to the general election based on fieldwork carried out between the 5th and 15th May.

For those of you who do consider it an important issue, here is our brief guide to the key employment law issues contained within the main parties’ manifestos.

Conservatives

In a speech on 15th May, Theresa May stated that her party’s manifesto would include the “greatest expansion in workers’ rights by any Conservative government in history” which some claim isn’t saying much. Furthermore in her Article 50 letter to the European Union she said existing workers’ rights would be “built on”. So what are the Conservatives proposing?

As things stand there are no plans to repeal any workers’ rights derived from EU law following Brexit. The National Living Wage will continue to increase aiming to reach 60% of median earnings by 2020 and then increase in line with median earnings until 2022. The review of employment practices in the modern economy led by Matthew Taylor will continue and its conclusions acted upon with the aim of protecting the rights of workers and employees including those working in the gig economy.

There will be a right to take leave for training purposes and a right to child bereavement leave the proposed duration of which is as of yet unknown. There are also proposals to introduce extended leave to allow workers to take unpaid leave to take care of sick relatives (believed to be between 13 and 52 weeks). The manifesto also refers to Returnship programmes aimed at helping those such as women and carers to return to work following time out from work by providing skills training and experience.

There are proposals to introduce mandatory reporting requirements similar to those currently in place for gender pay gap purposes in order to minimise pay disparities between people from different ethnic backgrounds referred to as Race pay gap reporting.

In terms of worker representation at board level, listed companies will face measures aimed at improving worker representation on boards (this will not necessarily involve appointing worker representatives to the board) and allow workers to request (currently unspecified) information relating to the future direction of the company employing them.

The Equality Act 2010 will be amended to provide disability protection to those suffering from “episodic and fluctuating” mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and bipolar disorder. There are also plans to offer incentives to employers in the form of 1 years’ relief on NIC’s where employing certain classes of vulnerable worker such as former wards of the care system, those with chronic mental health problems or those who have committed a crime but served their sentence.

Lastly, the Immigration Skills Charge levied on those businesses employing migrant workers will increase from £1000 to £2000 per year.

Labour

“For the Many not the Few” contains a 20 point “plan for security and equality at work”. We would see a new Ministry of Labour, strengthening of the role of unions, along with proposals to tackle pay inequality, Brexit and zero hours work. Under a Labour government some of the changes would include the following.

The Ministry of Labour will be in charge of enforcing workers’ rights and will have the ability to impose fines on employers who are not “meeting their responsibilities” with trade unions having an executive seat on the board of the Ministry. Additional Trade Union rights will include giving all workers the right to receive union representation, all unions being guaranteed access to the workplace to speak to current and recruit new members, only awarding public contracts to employers that recognise unions in the workplace and launching a public inquiry into the blacklisting of union members.

Following Brexit all rights guaranteed under EU law will be protected. There are plans to ban zero hours contracts and ensure that every worker receives a guaranteed number of hours a week. It is proposed to give all workers equal rights from day one, regardless of their employment status. There will be four additional bank holidays granted to commemorate St George’s, St Andrew’s, St David’s and St Patrick’s Days.

In terms of National Minimum Wage there will be a crackdown on employers who refuse to pay it and there are plans to increase the NMW to the level of the National Living Wage (for all workers aged 18 or over) which is expected to be at least £10 per hour from 2020. There will be an increase in the scope of the current 30 hours free childcare to include all 2 year olds, mandatory workplace risk assessments for pregnant women, an increase to the rate of paternity pay and double paternity leave to 4 weeks, an extension of maternity pay to 12 months. There are also plans to introduce a statutory right to bereavement leave.

There will also be an abolishment of Employment Tribunal fees aimed at allowing more workers access to enforcing their employment rights. There are plans to introduce legislation to limit employers that have an overseas only recruitment policy and a stronger emphasis on Apprenticeships which are considered to be “the most effective way of meeting our growing skills gap”. From an equality perspective there are plans to make it easier for disabled workers to challenge discrimination at work, to strengthen protections from women against the threat of unfair redundancy, reinstate protection against third party harassment, a civil enforcement system to ensure compliance with gender pay gap reporting, the introduction of equal pay audits on larger employers in order to close the ethnicity pay gap. There are also plans to ensure that those bidding for public-sector contracts must not have a pay ratio between the highest and lowest earners which exceeds 20:1.

Liberal Democrats

The key employment law related policies contained within Change Britain’s Future consist of the following.

Employment Tribunal fees would be abolished. As far as Brexit is concerned there is a pledge to remain in the single market which would mean workers’ EU rights would remain unchanged. In terms of discrimination there is an aspiration to achieve 40% female boards in FTSE 350 companies, plans to build on the existing gender pay gap rules to include the publication of data in relation to gender, ethnicity and LGBT employment levels and pay gaps, a guarantee of freedom to wear religious or cultural dress and attempts to encourage name blind recruitment processes in the private sector.

In terms of working families there are proposals to make flexible working, paternity leave and shared parental leave day one rights, the introduction of an additional months’ “use it or lose it” period of shared parental leave for fathers and an extension of the 15 hours a week childcare to all 2 year olds and children of working families from the end of maternity/paternity/shared parental leave, with a long term goal of increasing children to 30 hours a week.

The manifesto promises to ban zero hours contracts and give workers a statutory right to request a fixed term contract.

In addition to the above there are proposals to create a “good employer” kitemark which would be obtained by paying the National Living Wage, avoiding unpaid internships and using name blind recruitment processes.

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Russell is a Partner and Head of Glaisyers Employment Team. Russell is a specialist employment solicitor, providing commercially focused legal advice to both employers and employees. His practice covers all aspects of employment law including acting for clients involved in litigation in Employment Tribunals, the High Court and the Employment Appeals Tribunal. Russell is a frequent contributor to a wide range of employment law publications and is a regular speaker on the subject to both clients and the media. He is a member of the Employment Law Association.

Russell Brown - Partner

To discuss how glaiysers can assist you contact Russell Brown on [email protected] or via 0161 832 4666.

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