What would a change of government mean for employment law?

Employment law has emerged as a significant area of policy divergence between Labour and Conservatives, following the publication of their election manifestos this week.

Last month the Labour published its Plan to Make Work Pay. This sets out (in 24 pages) its ambitious plans for changing employment and trade union law, building on and modifying earlier policy proposals.

The Labour Party Manifesto published earlier today commits to implementing the plan “in full”. It is however interesting to see what policies earn a mention in the section of the manifesto addressing core employment rights. These are as follows:

  • Banning “exploitative” zero-hours contracts
  • Ending fire and re-hire
  • Introducing “basic rights” from day one to parental leave, sick pay and protection from unfair dismissal
  • Strengthening the “collective voice” of workers including through their trade union
  • Creating a single enforcement body
  • Ensuring the national minimum wage is a “genuine living wage”

These broad statements – lifted straight from the manifesto – become a bit more nuanced if you compare them with the way the proposals are described in the plan. There are also many proposals in the plan that do not get a mention in the manifesto – for example increasing the time limit for bringing proceedings in the employment tribunal from three to six months, or repealing the trade union legislation enacted by the Conservatives since 2016.

Later in the manifesto there are additional equality commitments, most also drawn from the make work pay plan, including:

  • Bringing the public sector socio-economic duty in the Equality Act into force
  • Strengthening rights to equal pay and protection from maternity and menopause discrimination
  • Introducing ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting for larger employers

Still further on, in the section on social care, Labour's plans to establish a "Fair Pay Agreement" in the sector are mentioned. This idea, which is explored in more detail in the make work pay plan, would mark a signficant departure from current collective bargaining arrangements in the UK.

While Labour has repeated its commitment to introduce an employment bill within 100 days of forming a new government, it has also reiterated its promise to “consult fully with businesses, workers, and civil society on how to put our plans into practice before legislation is passed”. Some proposals would in any event take a number years to implement. There is also employment legislation already on the statute book to consider, which has not yet been brought into force but which had cross-party support (see our earlier post here).

That said, the manifesto sends a clear message about the direction of travel should Labour form the next government. In that respect there is a sharp contrast with the Conservative Party manifesto, which has little, if anything, to say about employment law reform.

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