Now the dust has settled on the result of the General Election, employment law expert Michael Wright provides a brief overview of the Conservative party’s key pre-election pledges in relation to employment law.
Whilst there is no guarantee that these promises will result in changes to the law, they give a good indication of the direction of reform of the new Government.
National minimum wage and living wage
The Conservative party wants to gradually raise the level of minimum wage by initially accepting the Low Pay Commission’s recommendation to increase the national minimum wage (NMW) to £6.70 by autumn 2015. This is with an overall aim of increasing NMW to over £8 per hour by the next General Election in 2020.
In addition, it intends to increase the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500. This is to ensure that by the end of 2020, people working 30 hours a week on the increased NMW will not pay any income tax.
Zero hours contracts
All the main political parties made pre-election promises relating to the protection of workers on ‘zero hours’ contracts. These are contracts that do not provide the worker with any guaranteed hours of work. Although the Conservatives did not promise to prohibit such contracts, they have pledged to eradicate exclusivity clauses which prevent such workers from working for other employers.
Public sector termination payment
The Conservative party is committed to ‘ending taxpayer-funded six-figure pay-offs for the best paid public sector workers’. Details about how this will be achieved has not been provided. However, some contractual changes have already been made and there has been discussion of a cap at £95,000.
Work and families
The new Government has a commitment to expand the entitlement to free childcare to 30 hours per week for all working parents of 3 and 4 year olds. It is understood that this offer will come into force from 2017, and would result in 600,000 extra 15-hour free childcare places every year.
Trade union and industrial action
As part of the Conservative commitment to ‘jobs for all’ it is pledged to prevent ‘disruptive and undemocratic strike action’. The party intends to reform trade unions’ ability to take industrial action in a number of ways. These include a higher threshold for strike action in various parts of the public sector including health, education and transport. It is proposed that for industrial action to be valid, a minimum turnout of 40% of those entitled to take part in strike ballots will be required. In addition, protected industrial action would need to be supported by a majority of the votes cast. The Conservatives also pledged to amend legislation to prevent industrial action taking place ‘on the basis of ballots conducted years before’; tackle intimidation of non-striking workers; and tightening the rules around ‘facility time’ for union representatives.
There is a pledge to create an additional three million apprenticeships over the next five years.
The Conservatives aim to halve the disability employment gap by transforming policy, practice and public attitude to get 100,000 disabled people into employment. No clear details have been released about this.
The party also intends to promote full gender equality by requiring companies or organisations with more than 250 employees to publish the difference between the average pay of their male and female employees.
Bill of Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998
Much has been written about the Conservative party’s promise to introduce a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. The expressed aim is to break the European Court of Human Right’s ability to bind the UK, and making ‘our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbitrator of human right matters in the UK’.
Paid volunteering leave
Finally, as part of its vision of ‘Building the Big Society’, the Conservative party will create a right for people working in large companies and the public sector to volunteer for three days a year.