Just a week ago today, David Davis, then a mere "former Shadow Home Secretary”, published an article on the website conservative home. Now, of course, he is the cabinet minister in charge of negotiating our exit from the European Union. In his article, he spoke about the need to structure “our regulatory environment so that it helps business, rather than hinders”. He went on to say [and all the emphases in all the quotes below are mine]:
"To be clear, I am not talking here about employment regulation. All the empirical studies show that it is not employment regulation that stultifies economic growth, but all the other market-related regulations, many of them wholly unnecessary. Britain has a relatively flexible workforce, and so long as the employment law environment stays reasonably stable it should not be a problem for business.... The great British industrial working classes voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. I am not at all attracted by the idea of rewarding them by cutting their rights. This is in any event unnecessary, and we can significantly improve our growth rate by stopping the flood of unnecessary market and product regulation." [David Davis: Trade deals. Tax cuts. And taking time before triggering Article 50. A Brexit economic strategy for Britain]
So, the suggestion from Davis is that we can expect relatively little change in employment law. Stability is his order of the day.
Contrast that with Theresa May's approach. Also a week ago today, Theresa May, then a contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party, gave a speech in Birmingham at the launch of her leadership bid. In it, she clearly identifies a number of key concerns and objectives that, if addressed, will certainly affect workplace law.
First, equal pay: "If you're a woman, you still earn less than a man."
Second, job security and employment protection: "If you're from an ordinary, working-class family, life is just much harder than many people in politics realise. You have a job, but you don't always have job security.....There isn't much job security out there. Some find themselves exploited by unscrupulous bosses."
Third, and perhaps most striking, worker representation on boards: "And I want to see changes in the way that big business is governed. The people who run big businesses are supposed to be accountable to outsiders, to non-executive directors, who are supposed to ask the difficult questions, think about the long-term and defend the interests of shareholders. In practice, they are drawn from the same, narrow social and professional circles as the executive team and – as we have seen time and time again – the scrutiny they provide is just not good enough. So if I'm Prime Minister, we're going to change that system – and we're going to have not just consumers represented on company boards, but employees as well."
And fourth, executive pay: "Yet in the same time period executive pay has more than trebled and there is an irrational, unhealthy and growing gap between what these companies pay their workers and what they pay their bosses.
So as part of the changes I want to make to corporate governance, I want to make shareholder votes on corporate pay not just advisory but binding. I want to see more transparency, including the full disclosure of bonus targets and the publication of "pay multiple" data: that is, the ratio between the CEO's pay and the average company worker's pay. And I want to simplify the way bonuses are paid so that the bosses' incentives are better aligned with the long-term interests of the company and its shareholders."
That latter paragraph alone is extraordinary in containing three or four statements of intent that, if implemented, are bound to have a material impact on the way at least some companies are run, but add worker representation on the boards of companies as well as her other stated intentions and you have a radical employment law agenda. Whether or not those statements of intent will keep their place on Prime Minister's to-do list given the other issues on her agenda – not least leaving the European Union whilst avoiding the break-up of the United Kingdom - remains to be seen. But so far the indications are that if Theresa May's vision is realised, there may be some very significant changes on the horizon.