This Autumn’s conference season has given our political parties an opportunity to reveal how they wish to shape employment law after the election next year. Although other topics have grabbed greater media attention, enough of substance has emerged to give us some idea of their employment policies come May 2015.
First, the three main parties in Parliament appear to agree that more should be done to raise the level of the national minimum wage. Only Labour has come out directly with a target figure of £8 per hour by 2020. Recent evidence submitted by the Government to the Low Pay Commission supports this broad consensus.
There is also agreement on the need to tackle abuse of zero hours contracts. It appears that Labour plans would go further than the Coalition Government’s proposal to ban exclusivity clauses, which is currently before Parliament.
Looking more generally at the allocation of employment rights to different categories of workers, Vince Cable announced an employment review at the Lib Dem Conference. This is a Government initiative to explore giving “a silent minority of workers the security and rights enjoyed by the majority of employees” while clarifying the law on the dividing line between employees with full rights and other classes of worker. This appears to be quite similar to the position adopted by the Labour leader Ed Miliband when he referred briefly to “equal rights” for the “self-employed” in his conference speech.
There are however some obvious differences. The Conservatives have repeated their commitment to tighten the rules on industrial action ballots. The Lib Dems have promised to build on the introduction of shared parental leave next year by adding an additional month of paternity leave reserved for fathers. Labour has asserted that the employment tribunal system needs further reform, perhaps reversing or modifying the introduction of fees last year, which has led to a significant drop in claims.
Both the Lib Dems and Labour want to do more to speed the closing of the gender pay gap by compelling larger employers to publish information about gender pay differences. This goes further than current Coalition policy, which under legislation coming into effect earlier this month, only requires this information from employers who lose equal pay claims.