Opportunity Knocks

Well, here we are again. The goose was cooked, presents were opened, you’ve probably already returned those unwanted gifts to M&S, and the New Year Celebrations are now but a hazy memory. Did you make any New Year resolutions? Have you broken them already?

At risk of depressing you further can we remind you that it’s Election Year? Yes, in only 5 months time, “opportunity knocks”, and you’ll have the chance to swap one set of boring politicians for another. What an exciting prospect.

A common refrain is that there’s no real difference between the policies of the three main parties. (Sorry, UKIP, for the purposes of this blog you’re not yet a “main party”.) But is there really no difference between the parties when it comes to employment law reform?

Last year’s annual party conference season gave us an indication of what the protagonists would be urging upon us. Let’s remind ourselves what they said they’d do.

First the Blues. The most prominent employment-related reforms announced at the Conservative Party Conference were:

  • A British Bill of Rights, to replace the Human Rights Act 1998.  We would sever the formal link with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), so that their judgments would no longer be binding on the UK law.  This didn’t go down well with Labour, the Lib Dems and Human Rights groups – or, it has to be said, some well-respected judicial commentators who you might expect to be Conservative Party supporters.
  • Legislation to tackle the trafficking of workers. A Modern Slavery Bill, in fact.
  • Abolishing employer exclusivity in zero hours contracts.
  • Changing the trade union strike laws so that there would be:
    • a requirement for at least 50% of eligible union members to vote for strike action (currently a simple majority vote is required)
    • a 3 months time limit for strike action to take place following a ballot
    • a mandatory 14 days’ notice before a union took industrial action.

Now for the Reds. The main employment-related reforms announced at the Labour Party Conference were:

  • Increasing the national minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020 and tax breaks for employers who pay a living wage.
  • Increasing free childcare for working parents to 25 hours per week (for 3-4 year olds).
  • Requiring employers with more than 250 employees to publish details of average pay of men and women at each pay grade, in order to promote equality.
  • Changes to the Employment Tribunal system, including tinkering with the fees and remissions system to make justice ‘affordable’.
  • A reform of zero hours contracts, including:
    • the right to request a minimum amount of hours after 6 months, and
    • the right to a fixed-hours contract after 12 months
    • changes to some on-call practices
    • banning employer exclusivity), and
    • requiring employers to pay compensation to employees whose shifts are terminated at the last minute
  • An enquiry into the blacklisting of workers in the construction industry.

And finally the Yellows. The main employment reforms announced at the Liberal Democrat party conference were:

  • A new ‘Workers’ Rights Agency’, to enforce workers’ rights.  The agency would discharge the current functions of HMRC, the Health and Safety Executive, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
  • An increase in the national minimum wage for apprentices.
  • Anonymising jobseekers during the recruitment process to reduce the risk of discrimination.
  • An additional 4 weeks’ paternity leave.
  • The reform of zero hours contracts, including a ban on employer exclusivity and the right to request regular hours after a certain amount of time
  • Requiring employers with more than 250 employees to publish pay data to encourage fairness.  This would include publishing how many employees earn less than the living wage, details of gender pay differences, and a comparison of median pay and top level pay.

So who will you vote for? “Remember folks, it’s your vote that counts!” as Hughie Green used to say.

Richard Parr

Richard Parr

Richard Parr
Partner
Employment Department
RParr@LawBlacks.com
0113 227 9246

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