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Employment law after the election 2015

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With the election of a majority Conservative government in Westminster, many pledges made in their manifesto are likely to become law. The following reforms are likely to happen:

• Introducing tougher thresholds for strike action in the health, transport, fire and education sectors, which would require a minimum turnout of 40% of all those entitled to take part in strike ballots, in addition to a majority vote by all those who vote.
• Preventing some forms of strike action “on the basis of ballots conducted years before”, possibly through the introduction of a time limit.
• Removing the ban on employers from using agency workers to cover striking employees.
• “Tackling” the intimidation of non-striking workers.
• Introducing legislation to ensure a “transparent” opt-in for union subscriptions by trade unions.
• Tightening the rules around “facility time” (paid time off) for union representatives.
• Establishing a “Small Business Conciliation Service” to mediate in disputes, especially over late payments to employees.
• “Eradicating” exclusivity in zero hours contracts, presumably through the implementation of the Zero Hours Workers (Exclusivity Terms) Regulations 2015.
• Requiring larger employers (with more than 250 employees) to disclose information on their gender pay gap and “supporting” greater female representation on boards.
• Requiring public sector employers and larger employers to give up to 3 days’ paid ‘volunteering leave’.

There is unlikely to be any significant change to employment tribunal fees (at least in England and Wales) as this was referred to in the Conservative manifesto as “removing a large burden on businesses”.

Devolution

The Smith Commission

David Cameron has pledged that the recommendations of the Smith Commission will be implemented in the first year of his new government. This includes the following employment-related issues:

• Power for the Scottish Parliament to set different rates of Income Tax and the thresholds at which these are paid.
• Powers to support unemployed people through the employment programmes currently provided through the UK Department for Work and Pensions (such as the Work Programme and Work Choice).
• Joint powers to review the functions and operations of the Health and Safety Executive in Scotland.

The post-election landscape in Scotland

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon appeared on television stating “[we] want to move beyond the current Smith Commission proposals… what we will argue for is priority devolution of powers over… employment, the minimum wage… because these are the levers we need to grow our economy”.

David Cameron met with Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh on Wednesday 15 May to discuss further devolution. This meeting came on the back of an ‘agreement’ between the SNP and STUC to “oppose austerity and demand further powers for Scotland” including full devolution of employment, trade union and health and safety law.

What else?

The Conservative proposals to (a) repeal the Human Rights Act and (b) hold a referendum on EU membership will clearly also impact on employment law. We’ll be blogging about the impact of these in the near future.

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