In this election campaign, the main battleground has been over Brexit. It is no surprise, therefore, that the two main parties’ proposed approaches towards employment issues (as set out in their manifestos) have not taken centre stage. However, employment issues affect most of us. As employment lawyers, we see the wide-ranging impact that someone’s work life can have on their personal life. Employment law governs when and how we work, how much we are paid and sets the framework for the relationship between employers and staff.
On this rainy election day, we have summarised details of Labour and the Conservatives’ key proposals for employment law and workers’ rights.
Labour’s ‘Worker’s’ Rights Manifesto’ is ambitious, bold and aims to give workers “real power, real respect and dignity, while changing the culture of work in this nation”.
Key policy proposals include:
- £10 per hour minimum wage for all workers
- A ban on zero-hours contracts
- Within a decade, a reduction in the working week to 32 hours with no loss of pay
- An increase in maternity leave from nine to 12 months
- Doubling paternity leave to four weeks
- New “inclusive ownership funds”, which would require ‘larger’ companies to set aside 10% of their shares, over 10 years, to be owned collectively by employees, and
- The introduction of sectoral collective bargaining. This would mean introducing compulsory collective bargaining on a wide range of issues, such as minimum standards for pay and working hours by sector.
The Conservatives’ policy proposals aim to “make the UK the best place in the world to work”.
Key policy proposals include:
- The creation of a single body to enforce employment law (although little detail has been provided to date)
- The right to request a more predictable contract and other “reasonable protections”
- A consultation on making flexible working the default position unless employers have good reasons for refusing flexible working
- Changes to redundancy law so that employers cannot discriminate against women immediately after returning from maternity leave;
- Permission for parents to take extended leave for neonatal care
- Looking at ways to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave, and
- An extension of the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers.
Some thoughts on the proposals
Labour’s policy proposals are greater in number and detail. They include some proposals we have seen in previous Labour manifestos, such as an increase in the minimum wage and a ban on zero-hours contracts. However, their proposals regarding collective bargaining and “Inclusive Ownership Funds”, if implemented, would represent a seismic shift in labour market arrangements.
The Conservatives’ focus is on adapting families’ working lives to mirror changes workers have made to their lifestyles, such as making it easier to work flexibly. Their proposals are less radical than Labour’s, and in large part the Conservatives intend to stick to the status quo.
Labour’s policies on employment issues are more far-reaching than those of the Conservative party but, on the whole, both parties have outlined proposals that will strengthen workers’ rights. We think this is important in the context of the UK’s imminent exit from the European Union because the vast majority of employment law is derived from the EU. On the whole, decisions made by the European Court of Justice have been employee-friendly, and workers’ rights in the UK have been strengthened over the last few decades, in large part because of the UK’s membership of the EU.
This article was co-written by Catherine Meenan, a barrister at Cloisters, and Joseph Lappin.
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