General Election 2019: what are the implications for employment law?
Election manifestos promise key changes to employment law provisions in the UK.
Thursday 12 December is election day and whoever wins there are likely to be significant changes to employment law in the UK. In particular, workers' rights are an important political issue.
With a view to 2020 we have set out below the key employment-related provisions of the three main parties' manifestos which hint at the changes each will seek to make if elected. The Liberal Democrats' pledges are included as there is the possibility of a coalition government, in which case amends to workers' rights may be formed through common manifesto pledges with the Conservatives or Labour.
The Conservatives want to create a single enforcement body for employment rights to enforce employment law against abusive employers. In addition, workers with fixed contractual hours will be given the right to request a more predictable contract.
In regard to the National Living Wage (note this is the top bracket of the National Minimum Wage (NMW for those aged 25 and over) the Conservatives will increase it to £10.50 per hour by 2024 and lower the age threshold to 23 in 2021 and 21 by 2024.
Family friendly and diversity rights
Here, the Conservatives are considering making flexible working the default position unless employers have good reasons not to.
Pregnant women and new parents' redundancy protection will be strengthened, parents will be able to take extended leave for neonatal care and new ways will be looked at to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave. In addition, unpaid carers will see the introduction of the right to take a week's leave.
Plans include an 'Australian-style' points-based system with visas being allocated based on migrants' skills and the contribution they can make to the UK. Under this scheme, all EEA and non-EEA citizens will be treated the same for visa purposes from 1 January 2021.
Foreign students will be allowed to work in the UK for two years after graduation and the Conservatives will introduce a new bespoke visa scheme for migrants to fill shortages in public services, including an 'NHS visa' for health professionals.
Labour propose a significant expansion to workers' rights, including sectoral collective bargaining, strengthening trade union rights and making strike ballots easier.
On employment status, Labour wants to make everyone a 'worker' apart from the genuinely self-employed, ensuring that all workers have full and equal rights from day one of their engagement.
The 48 hour working time limit op-out will be abolished and Labour aim to reduce the length of the average full-time working week to 32 hours within a decade with no loss of pay. Rest breaks and cancelled shifts will be paid and unpaid internships will be banned.
Whistleblowers will have protections strengthened and workers will be given increased protections against redundancy.
In terms of pay, Labour want to introduce a statutory real living wage of £10 per hour for all workers aged 16 and over with no lead-in time to the increase, meaning this could take effect as early as April 2020 if Labour win the election.
At a structural level, Labour want to create a Secretary of State for employment rights and a Workers' Protection Agency to enforce rights and extend the powers of Employment Tribunals and introduce new law courts with an increased role for people with industrial experience on the panel.
Family friendly and diversity rights
For families, Labour wants to increase statutory maternity pay from nine to twelve months and double paternity leave from two to four weeks and increase the statutory pay. In addition, Labour will ban the dismissal of pregnant women without the prior approval of a government body.
Labour want to create a day one right to request flexible working and will require large employers to have flexible working and menopause policies. In addition, they want to introduce statutory bereavement leave and 10 days of paid leave for domestic abuse survivors.
There will be greater requirements on employers including disability gap reporting and a requirement to implement plans to eradicate pay gaps for gender, race and disability, or face fines. Employers will also be required to obtain gender equality certification from the government.
Labour will also push to give workers a stake in their employer's business by requiring large companies to create funds which give employees a stake of up to 10% ownership of the company and require one third of boards to be made up of worker—directors elected directly from the workforce.
If the UK leaves the EU, Labour want to protect free movement rights. They will also restore the domestic overseas workers' visa and end the minimum income requirement for family immigration.
Like Labour, the Liberal Democrats want to make the right to request flexible working a day one right. In addition, they want to introduce a 20% premium on the minimum wage for people on zero-hour contracts to compensate for uncertain hours and introduce a right to request fixed hours for zero-hours and agency workers after 12 months' employment.
For employment status, they want to establish a new 'dependent contractor' to replace 'worker' status. Dependent contractors would have basic rights to minimum wage, sick pay and paid holiday. The Liberal Democrats would introduce a presumption of employment or dependent contractor status in an employment relationship, with the employer responsible for proving otherwise. The self-employed would be offered parental leave and pay.
More widely, there are plans to review the tax and NIC status of employees, dependent contractors and the self-employed to ensure comparable treatment.
The Liberal Democrats would give trade unions a right of access to workplaces and strengthen their ability to represent workers and at a structural level a new Worker Protection Enforcement Authority would be created to protect those in 'precarious work'.
Similar to Labour, the Liberal Democrats would promote employee ownership. This would include giving staff in listed companies with more than 250 employees a right to request shares and require all listed companies and private companies with more than 250 employees to have an employee representative on the board. The Liberal Democrats would also require binding shareholder votes on executive pay policies.
Family friendly and diversity rights
Here, the Liberal Democrats would increase statutory paternity leave from two weeks to six and require employers to publish parental leave and pay policies. Employers with more than 250 employees would be required to publish gender, BAME and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps.
In addition, they would push for at least 40% female board representation in FTSE 350 companies.
Caste discrimination would be outlawed.
The Liberal Democrats would replace Tier 2 visas with a more flexible merit-based system and move policymaking on work permits from the Home Office to the Department for Business.
A new non-political agency would be established to take over visa applications and a new visa allowing foreign students to work for two years after graduation would be introduced.
Whatever the outcome of the election, employment law will continue to be a highly contested political issue, meaning further developments of workers' rights and associated family-friendly provisions should be expected.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Michael Crowther or any other member of the employment team on 0113 244 6100.
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The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors.