David Cameron did not say so in so many words, but judging by his speech at the close of the Conservative Party Conference yesterday, he would like to see the national minimum wage rise to £8 per hour by the end of next Parliament.
To get to this figure two separate policy commitments need to be combined with a little simple arithmetic. In a key section of his speech he promised to raise the tax threshold to £12,500 by the end of next Parliament. He also said that people working 30 hours per week on the national minimum wage would not pay tax. That assumes a rate of a fraction over £8 per hour by the next general election, the same figure that David Miliband committed to in advance of the Labour conference last week.
Cameron also shared the Labour leader’s enthusiasm for apprenticeships, committing to funding 3 million of them across the county. And like Labour, a “crack-down” on zero-hours contracts is planned, although this already features as part of this Parliament’s legislative programme.
Based on both parties’ conferences, it would seem that there is little difference between Labour and the Conservatives on employment law policy. Labour would go further on restricting zero-hours contracts (see posting here for more details) but there is only one obvious exception. That can be found in Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s promise to look at reforming the employment tribunal system. No details of these plans have been published yet and it is in any case possible that some changes will be forced on a new Government by a renewed legal challenge to the introduction of tribunal fees. That challenge will be based on arguments that a dramatic drop in the number of tribunal claims since fees were introduced shows that they have unduly restricted access to justice.