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General Election 2017: The Manifestos - Workers’ rights front and centre

General Election 2017: The Manifestos - Workers’ rights front and centre

Monday 22nd May 2017

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Employment Law Update - Issue 316 - May 2017

Since Theresa May’s decision to call a general election to be held on 8 June 2017, there has been a flurry of campaigning activity among the UK’s political parties, which culminated last week in the release a number of official manifestos (the manifestos of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Green Party are freshly launched – we await to hear from the other main parties).

Given the numerous opportunities that have been presented to UK voters to exercise their democratic rights since the last election in 2015, one could hardly be blamed for feeling a sense of ‘electoral fatigue’ at the prospect of reviewing these documents so we have done it for you. Within the manifestos there are contained interesting and diverging ideas as to the direction in which each party would take the UK should they be voted into Government next month.  Also, it is clear from the manifestos that all parties believe that workers’ rights will be a crucial issue in this election, each offering a variety of commitments to improve the rights and protections of those working in the UK. 

We set out the key employment commitments from each of the respective manifestos below.

Conservative Party

  • Increase the National Living Wage to 60 per cent of median earnings by 2020 (and by the rate of median earnings thereafter).
  • Ensure that the interests of employees, workers and the self-employed are all properly protected within the UK’s “gig economy” (having regard to the recommendations of the ‘Taylor Report’, due to be returned later this year).
  • Give all employees the right to request unpaid time off for training, to care for sick relatives, and for ‘child bereavement leave’.
  • Subject executive pay packages to annual votes by shareholders, and require listed companies to publish the ratio of executive pay to that of the broader UK workforce.
  • Require public companies to have employee representation at board level – this includes a proposal to require such companies to nominate a director from the workforce.
  • Offer breaks of up to a year on employer’s NIC contributions in respect of new employees with disabilities, mental health problems and/or long-term unemployment records.
  • Increase gender pay gap reporting obligations on large employers and introduce pay gap reporting obligations in respect of employees from different ethnic backgrounds.
  • Extend Equalities Act 2010 protections against workplace discrimination to cover mental health conditions that are “episodic and fluctuating”.
  • Double the Immigration Skills Charge levied on companies employing migrant workers, to £2,000 a year, by the end of the parliament

In summary, some interesting initiatives particularly in relation to mental health but the point has to be forcefully put to the Conservatives that their promises of additional workers’ rights sound hollow whilst they continue to resist anything but very minor changes to the Employment Tribunal fee regime (meaning that fewer workers feel willing and able to actively enforce those rights).

Labour Party

Workers’ Rights

  • Establish a “Ministry of Labour” to oversee the enforcement of workers’ rights
  • Increase the minimum wage to £10 per hour by 2020 (for workers over the age of 18).
  • Ban zero-hours contracts and unpaid internships.
  • Double paid paternity leave to four weeks and increase paternity pay.
  • Strengthen protection for women against unfair redundancy relating to maternity and parental commitments.
  • Amend the Equality Act 2010 in order to establish ‘terminal illness’ as a protected characteristic for the purpose of establishing discrimination in the workplace.
  • In the context of the UK “gig economy, legislate to shift the burden of proof onto the employer to prove that the worker is not an employee in cases where employment status is questioned (and increasing the fines to be levied on employers deemed to be taking advantage of purportedly ‘self-employed’ workers).
  • Abolish fees in the employment tribunal.
  • Make public sector employers, and private sector employers which perform public sector contracts subject to ‘maximum pay gap’ rules (imposing a maximum pay differential ratio of 20:1 between highest and lowest paid earners in such organisations). 
  • Remove the ‘Public Sector Pay Cap’.

Industrial Relations

  • Repeal the Trade Union Act 2016, which introduced controversial new requirements for ballots preceding industrial action aimed at restricting trade union activity (and also introduce ‘online’ and ‘workplace’ balloting for industrial action).
  • “Roll-out” of sectoral collective bargaining.
  • Guarantee trade unions a right to access workplaces, and to enforce all workers’ rights to trade union representation at work.
  • Ensure that public contracts will only be awarded to companies which formally recognise trade unions.

Business Immigration

  • Guarantee the rights of all persons currently working in Britain.
  • ‘Crack-down’ on ‘overseas-only’ recruitment practices (and those employers who fail to pay migrant workers the national minimum wage).
  • Reinstate the Migrant Impact Fund in areas where high levels of migration has placed a strain on public services.

Labour’s proposals are, as expected, the most wide ranging and would result in a dramatic shift in the dynamics of workplace relations. Free access to the Employment tribunal could be expected to see claims return to their former levels at least and the trade unions would expect to have a more visible role in UK businesses.

Liberal Democrats

  • Ban ‘zero-hours’ contracts and create a formal right for a worker to request a ‘fixed contract’.
  • Make paternity and shared parental leave ‘day one’ rights for employees, and extend the maximum paternity available to fathers by an additional month.
  • Extend the current ‘pay-gap’ reporting obligations to include reporting on figures showing compliance with National Living Wage requirements, and the gaps between top and median rates of pay within an organisation.
  • Legislate to ensure that the interests of employees, workers and the self-employed are all properly protected in the context of the UK’s “gig economy (reference is also made by the Liberal Democrats to the significance of the forthcoming ‘Taylor Report’).
  • Reverse the introduction of employment tribunal fees.
  • Strengthen worker participation in company decision-making by making staff representation on remuneration committees and at board level compulsory.
  • Amend the Equality Act 2010 to impose a requirement that large companies publish data on gender, BAME and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps within the organisation.
  • Introduce ‘name-blind’ recruitment in the public sector.

Again, some significant changes echoing the Conservatives themes on the gig economy but also Labour’s commitment to repealing Employment Tribunal fees.

Green Party

  • Take steps towards the introduction of a universal basic income, including a government sponsored pilot scheme.
  • Phase in a 4 day working week (a maximum of 35 hours)
  • Abolish zero hours contracts.
  • Increase the minimum wage to reach a genuine living wage of £10 an hour by 2020.
  • Take steps to end the gender pay gap, and require a minimum 40% of all members of public company and public sector boards to be women
  • A phased in abolition of the cap on employees’ national insurance

In addition to their eye-catching commitment to establish a four-day working week (aimed at reducing the stress of the UK’s workforce), the Greens unsurprisingly offer a progressive set of commitments, with pledges to raise the national minimum wage to £10 an hour and abolish ‘zero-hours’ contracts bringing the party into close alignment with Labour on issues of worker’s rights. 

If you would like more information on any of the issues raised in this article, please do not hesitate to contact: 

Alexander Thow

Trainee Solicitor
T: 0151 600 3159
Email Alexander