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28/06/2024

Manifestos have been published, election campaigns are in full swing and on 4 July voters will decide who they want to form the next UK government.

So, if you work in HR, what are the key points you need to know at this stage? Below, we outline the key employment law proposals which the main political parties announced in their manifestos.

Labour

Based on recent polls, a Labour victory is looking increasingly likely and Labour has made clear that, if it takes office, employment law reforms will swiftly follow. With this in mind, we have prepared a detailed plan setting out key steps Make UK recommends HR take now to prepare for likely changes to employment law if Labour forms the next government - see here, and we set out a brief summary of some of their proposals below.

The Labour Party’s manifesto commits to “implementing ‘Labour’s Plan to Make Work Pay: Delivering A New Deal for Working People’ in full” (the “New Deal”), which contains an array of employment law reforms. In particular, Labour would make the following changes:

  • Remove the qualifying period for individuals to be entitled to basic employment rights such as protection from unfair dismissal.
  • Lengthen employment tribunal limitation periods from three to six months.
  • Strengthen the collective voice of workers, including bolstering trade union rights and strengthening the code of practice in relation to “fire and rehire”.
  • Change the rules which currently apply to the triggering of collective redundancy consultation obligations.
  • Broaden entitlement to statutory sick pay (SSP), including making it available from the first day of sickness absence.
  • Ban “exploitative” zero hours contracts and make changes to secure more predictable working patterns.
  • Ensure equal pay and increase employer pay reporting obligations, including requiring large employers to report on their ethnicity and disability pay gaps, introducing a new Race Equality Act (giving the full right to equal pay for Black, Asian and other ethnic minority people), and introducing the full right to equal pay for disabled people.
  • Require large employers to publish “Menopause Action Plans”.
  • Introduce the “right to switch off”, allowing workers to disconnect and not be contacted by their employer outside of working hours.
  • Conduct a review of the parental leave system.
  • Make flexible working the default from day one for all workers (rather than just the “right to request”, as is currently the case).
  • Make it unlawful to dismiss a mother in the six months following her return from maternity leave (subject to certain, as yet unspecified, exceptions).
  • Introduce a new statutory right to bereavement leave.
  • Update protections for those who report sexual harassment at work and strengthen the legal duty for employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment.

Labour has repeatedly committed to introducing some employment legislation within 100 days of entering office, while recognising that public consultation will be necessary in relation to some of its plans.

Conservatives

The Conservative Party’s manifesto says surprisingly little about employment law.

It does, however, point to the widely-publicised introduction of National Service for 18-year olds, and the continuation of the minimum service level agreements which apply during industrial action by workers in essential public services under the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023. There is reference to reforms of the fit-note process which the Conservatives announced as part of their Back to Work Plan. The manifesto also refers to various tax and National Insurance related changes (such as reducing employee National Insurance to 6% by April 2027, and abolishing National Insurance for the self-employed by the end of the next parliament).

Another proposal that may have significant implications for HR is the Conservative manifesto commitment to update the law “to clarify that the protected characteristic of sex in the Equality Act means biological sex…so that an individual can only have one sex in the eyes of the law”, with the aim of guaranteeing that single sex services and single sex spaces can continue to be provided. The manifesto says that UK law currently includes a strong legislative framework to prevent and tackle discrimination and harassment in relation to gender reassignment and the Conservatives have previously indicated that they have no intention of removing any existing protections.

If the Conservatives form the next government, it seems likely they will continue with earlier plans to reintroduce employment tribunal fees, introduce a three-month cap on non-compete clauses and repeal the requirement to maintain existing European Works Councils. In relation to TUPE, they are likely to reaffirm that only employees and not workers are protected by TUPE and reverse the effect of European case law which in some circumstances can result in an obligation to split employees’ contracts between multiple employers where a business is transferred to more than one new employer.

It remains to be seen what will happen to certain plans that did not fully progress through the legislative process prior to Parliament being dissolved on 30 May 2024 (e.g. the right to request more predictable working patterns under the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act 2023 and the right to paid neonatal care leave under the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023).

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto (“For a Fair Deal”) outlines various employment law related plansThese include, for example: undertaking a review of the recent off-payroll working IR35 reforms “to ensure self-employed people are treated fairly”; reforms to parental leave; reforms aimed at supporting carers; a review of and changes to the national minimum wage; increased diversity reporting requirements; introducing a new class of “dependent contractors” (which looks similar to the current status of “worker”); introducing a right for those on zero-hours contracts and agency workers to request a fixed-hours contract after one year; introducing a right for staff in listed companies with over 250 employees to request shares; and adding two new protected characteristics into the Equality Act (namely – caring, and having care experience).

Green Party

The Green Party commits in itmanifesto to extending workers’ rights to organise in the workplace, including “a repeal of current anti-union legislation and its replacement with a positive Charter of Workers’ Rights, with the right to strike at its heart along with a legal obligation for all employers to recognise trade unions. In addition, the Greens state that they will: introduce a maximum 10:1 pay ratio for all private- and public-sector organisations; increase the minimum wage to £15 an hour, irrespective of age (with costs to small businesses offset by reducing their National Insurance payments); ensure equal employment rights for all workers from their first day of employment (including those working in the gig economy and on zero-hours contracts); give scope for gig employers that repeatedly break employment, data protection, or tax law to be denied licences to operate; and move to a four-day working week.

Scottish National Party (SNP)

The Scottish National Party’s manifesto states that its MPs will push to “scrap exploitative zero hours contracts, ban ‘fire and rehire’ practices and take action to close the gender pay gap”. The SNP would press the Westminster government to create a single status of “worker” for all but the genuinely self-employed. Although limited detail is provided in the manifesto, this could in practice have a significant impact on UK employment rights.

In addition, the SNP would: increase paid maternity leave to one year (with pay set at 100% of average weekly earnings for the first 12 weeks and then at the lower of £150 or 90% of average weekly earnings for 40 weeks); encourage increased take up of shared parental leave; scrap the lower earnings limit for eligibility for SSP; and remove the waiting period before SSP is payable.  The SNP would “increase the minimum wage to at least the level of the national living wage and increase in line with inflation”, as well as ending what it describes as “age discrimination” in relation to the differing age bands that currently apply in relation to the applicable minimum wage rate).  The SNP would also protect the right to strike by pushing for the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 and the Trade Union Act 2016 to be repealed.

Plaid Cymru 

Plaid Cymru’s manifesto supports the devolution of employment law to Wales. Should that happen, and English and Welsh employment laws diverge, that could be a source of HR headaches in the future. The manifesto also pledges that the party will push for: repeal of anti-strike legislation; paid bereavement and miscarriage leave from day one of employment; paid leave under the Carer’s Leave Act 2023; the prohibition of “fire and re-hire” practices; a ban on compulsory zero-hours contracts; a new “right to disconnect”; and reforms to Shared Parental Leave. 

Reform UK

Reform UK’s manifesto states that Reform UK will “scrap thousands of laws that hold back British business and damage productivity, including employment laws”.  This is, Reform UK says, one of the “critical reforms needed in the first 100 days”. Plans include: increasing the income tax starting threshold to £20,000; raising the National Insurance rate to 20% for foreign workers; introducing reforms to motivate people back to work (including benefit support and training, with particular focus on 16-34 year olds and tax relief for businesses that undertake apprenticeships); scrapping EU Regulations with immediate effect (including employment laws); bringing in a new British Bill of Rights; leaving the European Convention on Human Rights; replacing the Equality Act 2010 to remove positive action measures that are aimed at improving representation in the workforce; and scrapping (what it refers to as) “Diversity, Equality and Inclusion” rules. 

How we can help

Given that a Labour victory would appear to be the most likely outcome on 4 July, we recommend reading our detailed HR action plan - see here.

In discussions with the Labour Party, the Make UK Policy team has flagged that our subscribers would value a better understanding of what is most likely to change in the short to medium term, to assist with business planning. We have been liaising closely with Labour and will continue to do so to better understand its proposals.

If you are a Make UK subscriber, you can speak to your regular adviser with any queries you may have about these various employment law proposals and to request further consultancy support. Make UK subscribers can also access guidance on a wide range of employment law topics, including template policies and drafting guidance, in the HR & Legal Resources section of our website.

If you are not a Make UK subscriber, our expert HR and legal advisers can offer guidance on a consultancy basis. For further information, contact us on 0808 168 5874 or email [email protected].

News / Make UK