As summer starts to finally arrive and we look up to see blue skies, we now also look down to see the Conservative blue across Westminster leading us into the next five years. The Conservatives managed to win the general election and to everyone’s surprise they did so by gaining a majority.
Hats and kilts have been eaten, Ministers have been chosen, seats have been taken and the 2015-16 session of Parliament has officially begun (before they break for summer from 21st July 2015 to 7th September 2015). The Queen has now delivered her speech detailing the government’s agenda for the forthcoming session. So what can we expect from this session and the next five years?
The Conservatives have wasted no time fulfilling their pre-election pledge to eradicate the use of exclusivity clauses in zero hour’s contracts. These clauses prevented individuals working for other employers whilst still employed by their main employer under a zero hour’s contract. The Conservatives intend to create a more flexible workforce whereby individuals are free to be employed by different employers, work more hours and have the ability to earn more money. The concern for employers is that employees may find themselves ‘double-booked’ and not turn up for shifts knowing they have work with their other employer. In a sense the workforce may become too flexible and employers may see their stable workforce shrink.
The Queen’s speech introduced the Trade Unions Bill which paves the way for changes in relation to strike ballots by workers. A minimum turnout of at least 50% of eligible voters for union strike ballots will be compulsory before any legal strike action can commence. For essential public services such as health, education, fire and transport at least 40% of all eligible voters (with a 50% turnout) must vote in favour of the action. This piece of legislation is certainly employer-friendly as the Trade Unions will have to overcome this hurdle in order to put their workers on strike.
Key reforms brought in under the coalition government such as the increase in length of service from one year to two years for unfair dismissal claims and the introduction of tribunal fees for claimants are unlikely to be removed. Employers have reacted favourably to these reforms and the Conservatives will point to the reduction in the number of claims being issued as a measure of their success. UNISION are continuing their challenge against Tribunal fees and it remains to be seen whether they will be successful. Judgment is unlikely to be heard any time soon but we will keep you updated with any development.
Mr Cameron’s big society vision, which never really got off the ground, could be sprung back into the spotlight if the Conservatives decide to legislate to allow public sector employees and other employees who work in large companies up to three paid volunteering days a year in addition to their current annual leave entitlement. Whilst most employers are happy to embrace ‘the big society’ not many will welcome such a change with open arms. This idea was announced before the election and there hasn’t been much discussion since which would indicate this proposal won’t be introduced in the near future.
The Conservatives created headlines when they announced they intend to fulfil their promise to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Euro-sceptics will be pleased with this manifesto pledge that read “British Bill of Rights will break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter for human rights matters in the UK”. It is inaccurate to suggest that individuals will no longer be protected by human rights legislation. The Conservatives want to ensure that our Parliament creates and governs our own set of human rights and to protect the interests of both individuals and businesses.
As the blue skies of summer change to the grey skies of winter we will have a better idea of what the Conservatives seek to legislate in this Parliamentary session and future sessions through to 2020. The previous government successfully readdressed the balance between protecting businesses and ensuring access to justice for individuals. This government will ensure that balance remains intact.