With the annual conferences for the main political parties now over, what have we learnt about their plans for employment law and the workplace? This question is all the more significant, given that promises made close to a general election typically end up in the manifestos. We have highlighted some key proposals below.

Labour

  • Increase the national minimum wage to £8 by 2020 and introduce tax breaks for employers paying a living wage.
  • Reform the tribunal system, in particular, addressing fees and remission such that justice is “affordable”.
  • Promote equal pay by requiring medium and large employers to publish the average pay of men and women at each pay grade.
  • End the Swedish derogation from the Agency Workers Regulations which exempts such workers from some of the equal treatment provisions.
  • Reform zero hour contracts. Proposals include restricting on-call practices, banning exclusivity, paying compensation for shifts cancelled at short notice, introducing the right to request a contract with a "minimum amount of work" after six months and an automatic right to a fixed-hours contract after 12 months.
  • Hold an inquiry into the blacklisting of construction workers.
  • Introduce “equal rights for the self-employed”. Though the scope of this proposal is unclear, it may mean extending protection currently enjoyed by employees to “workers” (but not to the genuinely self-employed).
  • Stay in the European Union.

Liberal Democrats

  • Set up a new one-stop shop for workers’ rights enforcement. The Workers’ Rights Agency would streamline the work of four existing bodies and refocus efforts to enforce employment law.
  • Introduce an additional four weeks' paternity leave.
  • “Clamp down on any abusive practices in relation to zero hours contracts” - this is expected to include banning exclusivity clauses and a right to request regular hours after a period of time (perhaps six months).
  • Improve pay fairness. Proposals include requiring companies with over 250 employees to: publish information on gender pay differences, declare the number of people they employ on less than the living wage, provide information comparing the top and median pay levels and consult employees on executive pay.
  • Propose to the Low Pay Commission an increase in the minimum wage for apprentices (from £2.73 to £3.79 on current rates). The Conservatives are understood to support this proposal.
  • Remove the names of jobseekers during the recruitment process in the public sector to reduce the risk of discrimination.
  • Stay in the European Union.

Conservatives

  • Change strike laws. Proposals include introducing: a minimum 50% strike ballot threshold (of the number of eligible voting union members in contrast to the current simple majority of those who actually vote), a three-month time limit after the ballot for the action to take place, curbs on picketing, a requirement for unions to provide longer notice, and greater details, of the proposed strike action.
  • Introduce a British Bill of Rights, repeal the Human Rights Act and introduce other changes such that Britain’s courts would no longer be required to take into account rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, which would become an advisory body only.
  • End exclusive zero hour contracts.
  • Seek to renegotiate Britain's European Union membership then hold an in-out referendum.

Others - UKIP

  • UKIP proposals aimed specifically at the workplace are, to date, few and far between with the exception of a promise to repeal the Agency Workers Directive and to amend working time rules in the health sector. However, the Party’s promise to leave the EU and remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights would clearly have a major impact on employment law in this country.

Conclusion

All three main parties promise reform to zero hour contracts and they are all proposing, or considering (see the recent BIS consulation), an extension of some employment rights to more people. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats also have similar proposals aimed at improving pay transparency and both have commitments to incentivise the living wage and improve enforcement of employment rights such as the minimum wage.

However, there are clearly big differences between Party policies concerning our relationship with the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights.

No doubt the manifesto writers are currently hard at work, with the result that some of the above bullet points will change. However, it is already clear that employment law and politics are closely intertwined in the upcoming general election.