General election: employment watch – Conservatives manifesto proposes little change to employment law

General election: employment watch – Conservatives manifesto proposes little change to employment law

In light of the UK’s next general election taking place on 4 July 2024, we’re taking a look at some of the key promises relating to employment law made by the leading political parties.

Last week we looked at the employment law reforms put forward by the Liberal Democrats in their manifesto. This week we’ll focus on the Conservative party’s manifesto, which actually proposes very little change from an employment law perspective.

The Conservatives have made various promises in relation to National Insurance. The first being that they’ll take 2p off employee National Insurance so that it will be 6% by April 2027. Their long-term ambition, when it is affordable to do so, is to keep cutting National Insurance until it’s gone. They’ve also pledged to abolish National Insurance for self-employed people entirely by the end of the next Parliament.

As part of their wider reforms to the welfare system, the Conservatives have restated their intention to overhaul the fit note process by moving the responsibility for issuing fit notes away from GPs towards specialist work and health professionals. They will also look at integrating this with a new ‘WorkWell’ service to provide support to help people manage their condition or get back to work. Given that a recent report by Zurich suggests that the number of workers with long-term health conditions has increased by 27% in the last six years to a record high of 10.3 million, it’s not surprising that reforms to sickness processes is something that many political parties are looking at. However, the proposals for reform by the Liberal Democrats are markedly different to those proposed by the Conservatives, with no mention of fit note reform, and instead promises to change SSP so that more employees are eligible, and the payments are higher.

As we discussed in our previous article, the Conservatives announced that they will amend the Equality Act 2010 to make it clear that ‘sex’ refers to ‘biological sex’. This will mean sex is defined as the sex people are born as, rather than the one they have legally changed to on their birth certificate (if they have a Gender Recognition Certificate) or otherwise identify as. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has provided advice on what this might mean in practice.

One final proposal we wanted to touch on is the promise to continue implementing the Minimum Service Levels (MSL) legislation, which the Conservatives say will balance the ability of workers to strike with the rights of the public. The Government enacted the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act in mid-2023, which enables regulations to be introduced to implement MSLs during strikes in certain sectors. Regulations have already been put in place for passenger railway services and NHS ambulance and patient transport services (amongst others) with proposals to also introduce regulations in education and to cover urgent, emergency and time-critical hospital-based health service. The Government also introduced the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022, which attempted to make it legal for employers to hire agency workers to cover work during strikes. However, this legislation was subject to a successful High Court challenge and subsequently quashed. Labour confirmed in its ‘Plan to Make Work Pay’ that it would repeal MSL legislation and give trade unions more rights to represent their workers. On the subject of unions, the Conservative manifesto promises that they would never introduce ‘Labour’s package of French-style union rules’ which they consider to be a ‘threat to jobs, our competitiveness and our economy.’

The Conservative party’s manifesto contains other employment related proposals, such as the plan to create 100,000 more apprenticeships in England every year by the end of the next Parliament (funded by closing university courses in England with the worst outcomes for students), plus the introduction of mandatory National Service for all school leavers at 18.

Next week we will look at some of the employment law reforms contained in Labour’s manifesto, which promise to be more wide-ranging than those proposed by the Conservatives.

Should you wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Robert Forsyth.