Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, made two surprise announcements at the Liberal Democrat Conference which closed yesterday. They relate to low pay and employment status.

First he confirmed that he will be recommending to the Low Pay Commission that the national minimum wage rates for apprentices and young workers should be combined with effect from next October. That would give apprentices on the minimum wage a rise of £1.06 per hour based on current rates.

Secondly, he has announced a review of employment status by the current Government. The difficulty in distinguishing between the status of employees and other workers has long been an issue in employment law. Not only is the dividing line difficult to draw in practice, but many feel that the comparative lack of rights for workers is hard to justify when the work they are doing is often hard to distinguish from that of employees. When the last Labour Government came to power, it included an enabling provision in the Employment Relations Act 1999 to make it possible to change these rules by secondary legislation. Nothing has been done about this to date and it seems unlikely that the review will have time to resolve these issues conclusively prior to the General Election next May.

Cable’s announcements, which both reflect current Coalition policy, have rather overshadowed the debate about the changes the Lib Dems would like to see to employment rights after the next general election. They have however set out their stall in their 2014 Pre-Manifesto. In it they commit to introducing a month of “use it or lose it” leave for fathers. They would also require larger employers to publish information on gender pay differences.