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The 2015 election – what will the impact on employment law be?

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With less than two weeks to go until polling day, it is a good time to look at the final manifesto commitments of the major parties. The 2010-2015 parliament has been ripe for employment law reform – the introduction of tribunal fees and shares-for-rights schemes grabbing much of the headlines. The manifestos this time show no sign of the appetite for reform abating.

The Conservatives’ manifesto is the lightest on employment proposals, perhaps reflecting the fact they have been in government for five years and were able to implement many of their desired policies. Their specific pledges for the 2015 election include:
• Tackling avoidance of the ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hour contracts. The ban, provided for in the draft Zero Hours Workers (Exclusivity Terms) Regulations 2015, is yet to come into force.
• Regulating strike action and industrial relations by providing that strike action should be based on a ballot in which at least half of the workforce has voted; tougher thresholds for strikes in health, education and transport (40% of eligible voters must be in favour); and repealing the restrictions banning employers from hiring agency staff to cover during strikes.
• Requiring larger employers to disclose information on their gender pay gap and supporting greater female representation on boards.
• Supporting the national minimum wage and encouraging payment of the living wage where businesses can afford it.
• Helping smaller businesses take on new workers through the employment allowance. This frees businesses from the first £2,000 of employer’s national insurance contributions.
• Requiring public sector employers and larger employers to give up to 3 days’ paid ‘volunteering leave’.
• No change to employment tribunal fees.

The Labour Party’s manifesto contains rather more material of interest, with wide ranging reforms and repeals of legislation passed by the coalition. These include:
• Abolishing employment tribunal fees, replacing them with a system that is no more onerous on the taxpayer (to be agreed between the TUC and CBI).
• Increasing the national minimum wage to £8 per hour by 2020.
• Paying interns the national minimum wage after 4 weeks.
• Introducing a tax rebate system for employers who pay the living wage.
• Creating a right to a regular fixed hours contract for employees who work on a zero hours contract for more than 12 weeks, and introducing a right to compensation for zero-hours workers where their shifts are cancelled at short notice.
• Implementing reforms in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 which (a) banned exclusivity clauses in zero hour contracts, and (b) required large companies to publish their gender pay gap.
• ‘Strengthening’ the law against maternity discrimination (although they are unclear in which way this will be achieved).
• Doubling paternity leave from 2 to 4 weeks, with a £100 paternity leave pay increase.
• Changing reporting requirements so that companies would have to ‘publish pay packages of their ten highest paid employees… and the ratio of their top earner to average employees.’
• Requiring remuneration committees in large companies to have employee representatives.
• Repealing the ‘shares for rights’ scheme.
• Abolishing the exclusion from the right to equal treatment for agency workers who are paid between assignments (the ‘Swedish derogation’).

Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto contains rather less in the way of headline grabbing measures. The proposals include:
• Introducing a single national minimum wage for 16-17 year olds.
• Requiring large companies to publish their gender pay gap by implementing the provisions in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. Introducing a duty to disclose the ratio of top pay compared with the average.
• Reviewing employment tribunal fees to ‘ensure they are not obstructing justice.’
• Introducing ’name blank’ application forms for public sector jobs.
• Increasing statutory paternity leave to 6 weeks including a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ month to encourage fathers to take time off to care for children.
• Proposing to prevent employers from avoiding employment rights by wrongly classifying employees as ‘workers’ or ‘self-employed’.
• Introducing a ‘right to request’ a regular contract for zero-hours workers.
• Reviewing the use of unpaid internships.
• Supporting greater female and ethnic minority representation on boards.
• Introducing a right to paid ‘carer’s leave’.

UKIP’s flagship policy – withdrawal from the European Union – would have massive repercussions for employment law. Much of UK employment law stems from or is at least influenced by the EU, and the consequences of withdrawal would be large. Aside from this, their specific proposals include:
• Allowing British businesses to employ British citizens first whilst preventing access to EU schemes which encourage businesses to hire foreign workers.
• Retaining zero-hours contracts and banning exclusivity clauses. Also, creating a binding code of conduct providing that: businesses hiring 50 people or more must give zero-hours workers either a full or part-time secure contract after one year if the workers request it; and zero-hours workers must be given at least 12 hours’ notice of work. Once notice has been given, they must be paid for the work, regardless of whether or not they are actually needed.
• Raising the personal tax allowance to at least £13,000, taking those on minimum wage out of tax altogether. Raising the threshold for paying 40% tax to £55,000 and introducing a new 30% intermediate rate on earnings between £45,300 and £55,000.
• Silent on the issue of employment tribunal fees.

While the SNP will not be the major party in any government, current polls suggest it could have an influence either in a formal coalition or on a vote-by-vote basis. Their employment law proposals include:
• Seeking devolution of powers over employment policy, including minimum wage, national insurance and equality.
• Supporting the end of zero hours contracts.
• Increasing the minimum wage to £8.70 by 2020 whilst promoting the living wage.
• Supporting targeted reductions to employer’s national insurance contributions to support job creation and extension of the living wage.
• Supporting an increase in the employment allowance from £2,000 per business per year to £6,000 per business per year, reducing the cost of creating and maintaining jobs.
• Aiming for 50% female representation on public and private boards and supporting early introduction of the gender pay gap duty.
• Restoring the 90 day collective redundancy consultation period.
• Silent on employment tribunal fees.

John Morgan and Cheryl Laird

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