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Working manifesto: what could the election mean for employment rights?

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 23 April 2015
  2. Employment
  3. 0 comments
Unimpressed crowd

With just two weeks left until the general election, the parties have been eagerly crowing about their visions for the future to anyone who will listen. But what changes to employment rights have been proposed by the powers-that-be (not to mention the powers-that-might-be and the powers-that-don’t-stand-a-chance)?

Labour

The Labour Party are running their campaign on the idea that something needs to be done about the inequality in Britain, and part of this includes making changes to employment rights to ensure that workers are not left in the lurch.

Dealing with low pay is one part of Labour’s plan. They say that if they’re elected, they’ll raise the National Minimum Wage to £8 an hour – a huge increase on the current rate of £6.50. Furthermore, they plan to give local councils a part to play in enforcing the payment of minimum wage in order to ensure that workers are not losing out. Currently, minimum wage enforcement is carried out by HMRC, and it is feared that many people who should be getting the minimum wage are not.

Labour has also promised to tackle the controversial issue of zero-hours contracts and stop them from being used to exploit workers. The party aims to do this by changing the law so that anyone who works for one employer for 12 weeks with no guaranteed hours will have the right to sign up to a regular contract. It’s said that 90% of zero-hours contracts would be affected by this, but there are fears that it would simply lead to casual workers being dismissed after 12 weeks of work.

Conservatives

With a purported focus on “hardworking people”, the Conservatives seem to mostly be running with the idea of creating more jobs by helping out small businesses, a classic Tory staple.

To this end, they have promised to scrap those business regulations they view as “unnecessary red tape”, a disconcertingly vague concept which they nonetheless promise will free up small enterprises to concentrate on growing their business. This could involve the loss of a number of worker protections, including health and safety laws – the ramifications of this for workers appear not to be on the top of the Conservatives’ priority pile.

Factoring into the promise to slash regulations will be the party’s approach to Europe. They promise a renegotiation of how Britain deals with the EU, and, more importantly, a referendum on whether we should remain a part of it. Either of these changes could have huge repercussions for worker protections and employment rights in the UK.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats face a difficult election and will have to work hard to distinguish themselves from the other parties after signing up as a part of the coalition government. Some of their policies remain in line with those of the other two parties; like the Conservatives, they would do away with so-called “red tape”, but they also claim to have been instrumental in the recent ban on exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts.

One big change promised by the Liberal Democrats is the Workers’ Rights Agency (WRA), a proposal put forward by Vince Cable in October 2014. This would be a single body responsible for enforcing the rights of workers and preventing companies from exploiting them.

The WRA would take over the minimum wage enforcement activities currently carried out by HMRC and the working time directive responsibilities of the Health and Safety Executive, as well as absorbing the duties of the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and the Gangmaster Licensing Authority. Cable has said that taking a more ‘joined-up’ approach will ensure better enforcement of workers’ rights.

Other parties

Those parties that are slightly more on the fringe of politics have room for some slightly more unexpected policies that would certainly shake things up, for good or for bad, if they were to gain power.

UKIP has made the news lately after Nigel Farage’s declaration in an interview that the party would get rid of the laws which prevent discrimination on the grounds of nationality or race. He has backtracked on the issue since, but still says that he would like to be rid of the rules which say British-born workers cannot be favoured over others during the recruitment process.

But it’s not just these laws which would be on the chopping block if UKIP came to power; with their anti-European stance, a huge number of employment laws with their roots in EU legislation could be abolished, including rules on maternity leave and employment rights for temporary workers.

The Green Party approaches the issue from the other end of the spectrum, with an apparent goal of strengthening the rights of workers. They would raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour by 2020, as well as potentially introducing a cap on the “maximum wage” which would mean that the highest salary paid in an organisation cannot be more than ten times the smallest wage they pay.

As well as this, the Greens aim for a 35-hour working week and intend to push for gender equality in the workplace and expand workers’ rights.

The Scottish National Party would aim to ensure that workers under government contracts in Scotland are paid at the Living Wage rate at least, and bring in gender quotas on public boards.

And Plaid Cymru would aim to increase the minimum wage to Living Wage levels, put an end to exploitation of zero-hours contracts and help people who have difficulty finding jobs into work. They would also implement a scheme whereby elected employees would sit on the supervisory boards of big companies to scrutinise the decisions of management.

With an election where all kinds of parties have been thrust into the limelight, representing a wide variety of views on the topic of employment law, it’s hard to predict what kind of situation workers’ rights could be in a year or so from now.




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