The victory of the Conservatives in the UK General Election means that the trend towards making it easier to dismiss employees and more difficult for disgruntled employees to bring claims is likely to be continued. Whereas both Labour and the Liberal Democrats were proposing to at least review and potentially abolish employment tribunal fees that will not now happen. The Conservatives consider the almost 80% drop in employment tribunal claims following the introduction of fees to be a sign of its success. Fees are clearly here to stay unless the courts intervene.
Also although not expressly mentioned in their manifesto, there is already the right in law for unfair dismissal rights to be limited to employees of larger companies and potentially for the cap on the compensatory award for unfair dismissal to be reduced to average earnings. That would mean a compensatory award cap of approximately £27,000 which obviously would have a major impact on the value of unfair dismissal claims. The Conservatives also have previously sought to exempt employers with less than 10 employees from unfair dismissal claims. They may be tempted now to enforce that right.
The most significant legislative change that the Conservatives are proposing to introduce is changes to the strike laws to introduce a requirement that at least 50% of a union's eligible members vote for strike action rather than simply a majority of those who actually vote for strike action to become lawful. The government also proposes to make it easier for employers to hire temporary staff during strike action.
One area where the Conservatives have said they will implement reform is in relation to zero-hours' contracts where they have agreed to ban exclusivity requirements in those contracts. However the Conservatives are keen to retain the flexibility that zero-hours' contracts give and no further restrictions are likely. They have also said that they will require companies with at least 250 employees to publish the difference in average pay between their male and female employees.
The potential devolution to Scotland following the landslide victory of the Scottish National Party may mean that Scottish employment law begins to deviate fom English employment law. At present employment law is essentially unified across the whole of the United Kingdom but there is a real chance that this is going to change.
The Conservatives have also pledged to abolish the Human Rights Act and to replace this with a British Bill of Rights. The Human Rights Act has to be taken into account when deciding the fairness of a dismissal and its abolition therefore is likely to have some impact on unfair dismissal particularly when it is related to an employee's private life.
The most significant medium term proposal by the Conservatives is their pledge to hold a referendum on the UK's membership to the EU. Needless to say, if the UK voted to leave the European Union there is a lot of UK employment law legislation which originates at EU level which could potentially be amended or even repealed entirely. This includes almost all of our anti-discrimination laws as well as the TUPE regulations. Also it seems possible that the Conservative government's attempt to renegotiate our relationship with Europe will include reducing or eliminating its role in determining employment laws. In particular the Working Time Regulations which regulate holiday as well as working hours have been heavily criticised by the Tories.
Essentially therefore, although there is a lot of uncertainty, it is likely that from a business perspective employment rights will continue to be reduced during the term of this government.