General election 2017 - what might the manifestos say about employment law?
27 April 2017
Theresa May’s announcement of a snap general election caught everyone off guard. The various political parties will be rushing to fill their manifestos with headline-grabbing policies, although these will not necessarily be very well thought through.
The current parliamentary agenda continues to be dominated by Brexit, of course, but while the UK’s departure from the European Union has potential implications for employment law in the longer term, we will not consider it in detail here.
With the manifestos unlikely to appear for another week or two at least, this article speculates about what specific commitments we might expect to see the main parties making on workplace issues.
The Tories have already implemented (or are on their way to implementing) their main employment law proposals from the last general election: banning exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts, capping public sector redundancy payments and legislation to make calling industrial action more difficult.
We have not yet, however, seen any announcements about the implementation of paid volunteering leave. This proposal from the 2015 Conservative manifesto would have given staff an additional three days leave a year to spend carrying out voluntary activities. It was reportedly one of David Cameron’s pet policies, but appears to have been quietly shelved and there doesn’t seem much chance of Theresa May resurrecting it.
A policy that the Tories are more likely to bring back to the fore is the creation of a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 - an idea long been favoured by many of the party’s MPs. In tandem with Brexit, this could ultimately have a number of implications for employment law in areas including manifesting religion in the workplace, privacy rights and trade union involvement.
The Government has commissioned an ongoing independent review into employment practices in the modern economy, which is expected to lead to legislative reform in due course - particularly in relation to worker status. It remains to be seen whether there are any proposals in the Conservative manifesto that effectively “jump the gun” on the outcome of this process.
Since his election as leader of the Labour Party in 2015, former trade union official Jeremy Corbyn has regularly spoken about the pro-worker changes to employment law that he would like to see.
We can expect Labour’s manifesto to contain policies that would dramatically increase the role of trade unions in the workplace. Mr Corbyn has said that large employers should be forced to recognise a trade union and, more recently, committed to the complete repeal of the Trade Union Act 2016.
Just two weeks ago, Mr Corbyn announced that “within weeks” of a Labour general election victory, he would abolish the national living wage (which applies only to those aged 25 or over) and increase the national minimum wage to £10 an hour. This announcement presupposed that an election would not be called until 2020, so we can expect to see a longer timescale for implementation of this policy in the manifesto.
Last year, Mr Corbyn said that he would lower the threshold for gender pay gap reporting from 250 employees to 21 employees, to bring many more businesses within scope of the new regime.
The Lib Dems do not appear to have made any proposals for changes to employment law. In the days since the calling of the snap election, as well as the many months previously, they have remained quiet on the matter. What (if anything) their manifesto will say about employment law will remain a mystery until it is published.
The Green Party has recently spoken about introducing a 3-day weekend. It is not yet clear what form this might take – would it be simply promotion and support for people to work flexibly, or a more extreme change such as making every Monday a bank holiday?
In response to concerns about zero-hours contracts and the gig economy, the Greens have recently also advocated a universal basic income. The theory is that if everyone receives a regular, non-means-tested payment, this would provide the income security currently lacking for those engaged in the gig economy and others. A universal basic income is currently being trialled in Finland.
Since the calling of the election, the UK Independence Party has been quick of the mark in calling for a ban on the wearing of “face coverings” in public places, although it has confirmed that beekeepers would be exempt. While this means the UK’s 200 professional apiarists can rest easy for now, UKIP has not yet commented on whether actors, welders or divers would be similarly excluded from the ban…