The polls and pundits may have got it wrong, but on 7 May, the Conservative party received enough votes to form a majority government for the next five years. Far from looking at which party pledges might be lost in the course of agreeing a coalition arrangement, the new government will be relatively free to implement its manifesto as it wishes.
The promised in/out referendum on Europe has potentially significant implications for the shape of employment law in the UK, but with discussions still ongoing about the preferred level of involvement in Europe and the referendum unlikely to take place before 2017, we take a look at what lies in store in the meantime.
We now know the following cabinet appointments have been made:
• Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills: Sajid Javid
• Secretary of State for Justice: Michael Gove
• Employment Minister: Priti Patel
On the face of it, many of the Conservatives’ pre-election promises favoured employers:
• The introduction of a 50% minimum voting turnout of unions for strikes to be lawful, with a requirement in core public sectors for 40% of those entitled to vote to be in favour of strike action.
• The repeal of the prohibition on employers hiring agency workers to cover strike action.
• Their manifesto was silent on Employment Tribunal fees and the current two-year qualifying period for unfair dismissal, but there seems little prospect of either of these being overturned.
However, there are some aspects that lean more towards the rights of workers and employees, albeit in some respects at the outer edges of employment protection:
• A commitment to seeing increases to the National Minimum Wage in line with the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission, which would mean an increase to £8 by 2020 They will also support the Living Wage and will encourage businesses who can afford it to pay it.
• Employers will continue to be able to use zero hours contracts but they will not be permitted to enter into exclusive arrangements, so workers will be free to look for other opportunities to supplement their income.
• Companies with more than 250 employees will be required to publish details of the pay gap between male and female employees.
• Public sector employers and companies with more than 250 employees will be required to allow staff up to three days’ paid leave per year to take up voluntary work.
• Implementation of the Modern Slavery Act and the introduction of tougher labour market regulation to address issues of slavery, illegal working and exploitation.
If the promised referendum results in the UK leaving the EU, there are likely to be far-reaching consequences for employment law given how much of our legislation has its roots in Europe. Until then, it’s business as usual but with a close eye on which of the promised changes are brought into effect by our new ministers.