Before we get into the detail of the general election, it’s important to consider the Brexit context. The Conservative manifesto reiterates Theresa May’s pledge that post-Brexit EU laws will be converted into UK law through the ‘great repeal bill’. Under a Conservative government, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) will have no authority to determine UK law and the government would be able to repeal any existing EU law, including employment law, thereafter.
Labour, meanwhile, would abolish the great repeal bill, but would introduce similar legislation. It is unclear if the UK would be required to adhere to CJEU rulings after Brexit under a Labour government. The Liberal Democrats’ focus is on a second referendum on the terms of the final deal.
Conservative Party: ‘Forward, Together’
Theresa May claimed the Conservatives’ manifesto would embrace “the greatest expansion in workers’ rights by any Conservative government”. Whether the proposals amount to a seismic shift in expanding workers’ rights is questionable, but there are certainly parts of the manifesto that will appeal to workers. A new Conservative government would give employees unpaid time off to care for sick relatives, introduce child bereavement leave and maintain the national living wage for workers aged 25 and older.
The Taylor review would continue its examination of workers’ rights and the gig economy and, although May watered down a proposal to place workers on company boards earlier this year, listed companies would be required to implement some measures to improve employee representation.
There is a clear commitment in the manifesto to take steps to reduce the pay gap between men and women. This government has already introduced the Gender Pay Gap Regulations, requiring the publication of average male and female pay. Under a new Conservative government, big companies would be required to publish even more comprehensive gender pay information (the reporting regime would also be extended to race). The manifesto also commits to supporting new mothers to return to work following time off to care for children.
Protection would be extended under the Equality Act 2010 to individuals suffering from mental health issues who may not be ‘disabled’ because, for example, their condition is periodic. The manifesto also commits to controlling executive pay by making pay packages subject to shareholder approval.
Labour Party: ‘For the Many, Not the Few’
Under a Labour government, workers’ rights would be extended considerably, as would the influence of trade unions. Labour would repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 (which imposes restrictions on union activity) and roll out sectoral collective bargaining. Notably, public contracts would only be awarded to businesses that recognise a trade union.
Employment tribunal fees would be abolished, as would zero-hours contracts “so that every worker gets a guaranteed number of hours each week”. Markedly, all workers would be given “equal rights from day one, whether part time or full time, temporary or permanent”.
A Labour government would increase pay rates by extending the national living wage to all workers aged 18 and over, and would be committed to increasing “prosecutions of employers evading the minimum wage”. In the public sector, pay ratios would be introduced to limit the pay multiple of the highest-paid staff members to the lowest to 20. Employers would also be encouraged to hire apprentices under a Labour government and unpaid internships would be abolished.
New statutory definitions of ‘employee’, ‘self employed’ and ‘worker’ would be introduced. Many employment lawyers believe this is a sensible idea because the current position on employment status is unsatisfactory.
Labour go a step further than the Conservatives in increasing the employment rights of working families by promising to double the length of paternity leave and increase paternity pay. A Labour government would also increase the period of paid maternity leave to one year. All workers would be entitled to four new statutory bank holidays.
Labour would build on the gender pay reporting regime by introducing a civil enforcement system to ensure employers comply with ‘gender pay auditing’ to encourage fair employment and promotion opportunities.
Liberal Democrat manifesto
Like Labour, the Liberal Democrats would abolish tribunal fees and take action in the area of gender pay, extending the reporting regime to include BAME and LGBT data. In the public sector, blind recruitment would be introduced across the board and greater diversity would be encouraged. A Liberal Democrat government would push for at least 40 per cent female representation on the boards of FTSE 350 companies.
Gender identity and expression would become protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.
Under the last coalition government, the Liberal Democrats were largely responsible for the implementation of shared parental leave, and their manifesto commits to an additional one month’s leave for fathers.
The bigger picture
Beyond employment law matters, HR will be affected by a range of other measures. For example, the Conservatives continue to pledge a reduction in net migration below 100,000, which might be more achievable post-Brexit and could have an impact on the employment market. The Labour Party’s employment policies must be considered in light of the promise to increase income tax rates for high earners and the rate of corporation tax.
Until 9 June, employers won’t know which of these policies will be implemented. But businesses should begin considering the potential short to medium-term impact of the main parties’ policies on their business before election day, so that plans can be revised and decisions taken quickly where necessary.
Joseph Lappin is a solicitor and Matthew Caples is a trainee in the employment department at Stewarts Law