How far are Labour and the Conservatives apart on employment policy?

Amid all the distractions of Brexit, the party conference season has presented an opportunity to assess the employment policies of the main political parties as we approach the next general election. Although there were a number of other announcements (notably Labour’s proposals to enhance workplace rights for women experiencing the menopause) most of them can be grouped under three main policy areas:

National Minimum Wage

In most respects, the Conservatives and Labour are probably as far apart as they have ever been but they do agree one thing: the National Minimum Wage should continue to rise in real terms. The Labour call for an immediate rise to £10 per hour for all workers over 16 is more generous than the Conservative’s promise to raise the hourly rate (for workers aged 21 and over) to two-thirds of median earnings by 2025. But both promises, if implemented, would move the UK to the top of the global minimum wage league table, along with France and New Zealand.

One-sided flexibility

The need to tackle exploitation of vulnerable workers is also an aim shared by both parties, though there is considerable divergence on the means chosen to do this.

The May Government committed to implementing almost all the recommendations of the Taylor review, including most of its proposals to tackle what it termed “one-sided flexibility”.  These include introducing a right to reasonable notice of shifts and to compensation if they are cancelled at short notice. It seems reasonable to assume that an incoming Conservative Government would implement these plans, which are currently at consultation stage.

Labour is likely to introduce similar measures, but has also set out some more radical proposals, such as banning zero-hours contracts altogether and giving workers the same level of employment protection as employees from day one.

Collective rights

Not surprisingly, it is in the trade union field that there is the greatest divergence between the two main political parties. Labour has promised to repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 and introduce nation-wide sectoral collective bargaining. This would be supported be a new Ministry for Employment Rights and a Workers Protection Agency. Labour hopes that these new structures will deliver its most memorable commitment of the conference season:  a negotiated 32 hour week with no loss of pay within 10 years.

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