The main political parties have now published their manifestos for the general election on 7 May 2015. But what does a vote for each party mean for employment law? In which specific areas should we expect to see change?
Labour have pledged to abolish the employment tribunal fees system, although it is not clear whether this is the same as abolishing fees altogether. It may well be that they simply implement a new system. A key priority for Labour is to restrict the use of zero hours contracts and they have suggested that those who work regular hours for 12 weeks should receive a permanent contract. We may well still see employees on zero hours contracts for short periods and it is not clear how Labour propose protecting employees who have a break in their service every 12 weeks. Labour have also promised to raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour and provide tax rebates for businesses that sign up to pay the Living Wage within the first year of a Labour government. Finally, Labour will require all firms which have a major government contract to offer apprenticeships.
The Lib Dems have focused on ‘family rights’, pledging to introduce a right to paid time off for carers. They will also expand on Shared Parental Leave (‘SPL’), introducing a ‘use it or lose’ month to encourage fathers to take time off with young children. They have a stated ambition to see Paternity leave and SPL become a ‘day one’ right.
In addition, the Lib Dems have promised to quickly implement rules requiring the largest companies to publish pay details for men and women and confirmed their plan to expand this so that companies also have to publish details of any employee earning less than the Living Wage. They have also suggested that they will create a formal right to request a fixed contract and will consult on introducing a right to make regular patterns of work contractual after a period of time. It is not clear how this will go further than the existing system whereby Tribunals can imply a contractual relationship by custom and practice.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives are focusing on their key aim of achieving full employment and have pledged to deliver 3 million more apprenticeships in a bid to abolish youth unemployment. They have also suggested that they will abolish employers’ National Insurance Contributions for young apprentices under 25. In a further pro-employer move, they have confirmed that they will introduce a tougher threshold for strike action in health, education, fire and transport services. Industrial action in these areas would require the support of at least 40 per cent of all those entitled to take part in strike ballots, as well as a majority of those who turn out to vote. They have also promised to repeal restrictions banning employers from hiring agency staff to provide cover during strikes.
And finally, UKIP has confirmed that it will not ban zero hours contracts, but instead will introduce a legally binding Code of Conduct which stipulates that businesses hiring 50 or more people must give workers a full- or part-time contract after 1 year if they request it. In addition UKIP want to allow British businesses to employ British citizens first and will restrict access to EURES, the EU-wide jobs portal that it claims has become the ‘go-to’ source for employers looking for cheap labour from overseas.
Employment law is always a highly political area and we have seen fundamental changes in the course of the coalition government, including the introduction of employment tribunal fees and an increase to the qualifying period for unfair dismissal. Based on these manifestos, it seems clear that we’ll continue to see change to some extent over the course of the next government – the law in this area never remains stable for long.