With a General Election looming, attention is turning to statements being made by all of the three main parties in relation to employees’ rights. Whether you’re looking at the manifestos with the eyes of an employer or an employee, we summarise the key promises being talked about.
Coming in at a mere 88 pages, the Conservative manifesto is the shortest of the three main parties’ manifestos and it focuses on the now familiar refrain of “strong and stable” Government. It looks at “five giant challenges” facing the UK and at its heart, in relation to employment rights, are promises to deliver “a new deal for ordinary, working people giving them a decent living wage and new rights and protections in the workplace” and to have “a government unafraid to confront the burning injustices of the gender pay gap, racial disparity, the stigma of mental health and disability discrimination”.
That will be achieved through:
- maintaining increases to the National Living Wage;
- protection for “gig economy” workers;
- the protection of existing workers’ rights following Brexit;
- delivering on the pre-existing commitment of three million new apprenticeships by 2020;
- offering a holiday on employers’ National Insurance Contributions to businesses employing individuals with a disability or chronic mental health problems;
- taking measures to close the gender pay gap by requiring companies with more than 250 employees to publish data (as already required);
- taking steps to improve the take-up of shared parental leave and helping companies to provide more flexible working environments;
- supporting companies to take on parents and carers returning to work after long periods of absence;
- extending the protection of the Equality Act to episodic and fluctuating mental health conditions (arguably as already covered);
- working with employers to transform how mental health is regarded and handled in the workplace; and
- advising and supporting employers in taking on disabled employees with a view to achieving a shift in attitude to disability discrimination.
Traditionally, of course, Labour has been the workers’ party but recent announcements from Theresa May clearly show that the Conservatives see workers’ rights as a key battleground for them too. Labour’s pledges in this area include:
- outlawing zero hours contracts;
- prohibiting unpaid internships;
- delivering a National Minimum Wage of at least £10 by 2020 for all workers aged 18 and over;
- a doubling of statutory paternity leave from two to four weeks and increasing statutory paternity pay;
- strengthening protection against redundancy for women on maternity leave;
- abolishing employment tribunal fees;
- introducing civil enforcement to ensure compliance with gender pay gap reporting; and
- repealing the Trade Union Act and increasing trade union access rights and protection.
Labour has also promised, in an attempt to clamp down on what it describes as “bogus self-employment”, to introduce an assumption that all workers are employees (with all the associated rights that brings) unless the employer can demonstrate otherwise. It would also look to establish a commission to modernise the law around employment status and effectively remove the current worker category.
Hidden within a section on Early Years childcare, Labour has also indicated that it would be looking to increase statutory maternity pay from the current 39 weeks to 12 months.
The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto is largely driven by the party’s stance to Brexit and its commitment to giving the country a final say on the Brexit deal and fighting a ‘hard Brexit’. However, there are still some key promises in relation to employment matters:
- supporting innovation, science and technology by expanding high-quality apprenticeships in this area;
- encouraging the creation and adoption of a ‘good employer’ kitemark covering areas such as paying a living wage, avoiding unpaid internships and using name-blind recruitment;
- conducting an independent review on setting a living wage across public sector employers;
- extending reporting requirements in relation to pay levels;
- modernising employment rights in recognition of the growth of the ‘gig economy’;
- increasing rights for those working under zero hours contracts;
- abolishing employment tribunal fees;
- expanding shared parental leave to include an additional month available to fathers;
- extending paternity and shared parental leave to all employees from ‘day one’; and
- encouraging employers to provide more flexible working, making this a ‘day one’ right and introducing a presumption that work is flexible unless there is a clear business reason why it cannot be.
There is clearly some overlap in the areas being focused on by the three main parties but they differ quite markedly in how far they want to go. Of course, regardless of what promises are made in manifestos, all parties will be mindful that our Brexit negotiations with the EU could well shape future workers’ rights in any event.
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