UK: General Election 2017 And Employment: Clear Blue And Red Water

At 7am on Thursday 8 June, polling stations across the UK will open. Once more, rocky trestle tables and plywood booths will be set up in schools, church halls and community centres throughout the country. Millions will grasp stubby pencils attached by a length of string to make a mark and answer the question: 'who should govern us for the next five years'?

This is the fourth year in a row that people are being asked an important question about the future of the UK. With two referendums and two general elections since September 2014, it seems as though the psephological Groundhog Day is never ending.

How prominently do employment issues feature in an election overshadowed by Brexit and electoral realignment?

According to the main parties' manifestos, these issues are more prominent than you might think.

Sluggish wage growth, sclerotic living standards, rising inequality and increasing competition for working class votes have put workers' rights, taxation and pay high up the political agenda.

A more radical Labour Party ensures that there is clear blue (should that be red?) water between the main parties. Reflecting this, trade union rights attract far more attention in Labour's manifesto than they did in 2015.

To reflect the rising importance of the smaller parties, we've ploughed through six manifestos to see what the parties are offering for employers, savers and pensioners. There are some consistent themes, but the parties are offering materially different approaches to tackling the big issues.

We've outlined some of the key areas in this alert and focused on what the parties promise to do. We've also set out comprehensive coverage of the policies affecting employment and pensions in our Employment and Pensions Manifesto Commitments table.

What are the big themes?

There are several big themes that emerge from comparing the employment policy pledges of the main parties:

  • workers' rights and Brexit;
  • rebooting employment rights - ensuring employment law is fit for the gig economy;
  • family friendly employment policies;
  • moving towards a genuine living wage;
  • closing the pay gaps; and
  • educating for employment and lifelong learning.


All of the parties acknowledge the central role played by EU legislation in UK employment law. Whilst the parties differ in their approaches to Brexit, they all call for the protection of workers' rights.

This ranges from the lukewarm approach adopted by the Conservatives (workers' rights given by EU law will continue to be available at the point at which we leave the EU, but, thereafter, may be amended by parliament) to stronger pledges to avoid a 'race to the bottom' on employment rights (UKIP) and no rolling back of key rights and protections (Labour).

Labour goes one step further than the other parties in pledging to ensure that the UK does not lag behind Europe in workplace protection in the future.

What does this mean for employers?

There is unlikely to be any change to the UK's EU-derived employment law system for the duration of the next parliament. All of the main parties are committed to retaining the current set of workers' rights - at least until the UK formally leaves the EU.

If the Conservative Party win the election, there could be a push to reduce some of the regulatory burden after Brexit is delivered. This could, however, face opposition from the so-called 'blue-collar' Conservatives.


Even before the announcement of the general election there was plenty of focus on employment law and the gig economy. The Taylor Review on employment practices in the modern economy was commissioned by Theresa May on 1 October 2016.

Cases involving Uber, CitySprint, Deliveroo and Pimlico Plumbers have placed the so-called 'gig economy' and self-employment status under the judicial microscope.

All of the parties except UKIP have manifesto commitments around the future economy and employment. The Conservatives await the results of the Taylor Review, but are committed to ensuring that the 'self-employed and those people working in the 'gig' economy are properly protected'.

The Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and SNP pledge to take steps to modernise employment rights. The Labour Party will do this via a dedicated commission set up to modernise the law around employment status, whilst the SNP seek to strengthen and roll out their Fair Work Convention across the rest of the UK.

The Green Party have the most radical approach on employment rights. They seek to phase in a four day working week with workers working a maximum of 35 hours a week.

What does this mean for employers?

Regardless of the outcome of the election, it seems inevitable that there will be a renewed focus on worker status, self-employment and the gig economy. It seems likely that the Taylor Review will be at the more pragmatic end of the spectrum with the SNP's Fair Work Convention representing a more radical approach.

Family friendly employment policies

Childcare and family leave are covered by all of the main parties.

The Conservative Party seek to build on childcare availability by introducing 30 hours of free childcare for three and four year olds of working parents who find it difficult to manage the cost of childcare.

The Labour Party and Liberal Democrats promise to go a step further, with provision for childcare for two years-olds and even some one-year olds.

The Labour Party promise to introduce a National Education Service, which is intended to integrate childcare into the broader education system. The Liberal Democrats have a long term ambition for 30 hours' free childcare a week for all parents with children aged from two to four years.

The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats focus on paternity leave, with both parties promising to increase paid paternity leave (from two weeks to four weeks under the Labour Party and six weeks under the Liberal Democrats). Labour would also extend maternity pay to cover the full period of maternity leave (i.e. increasing it from 39 months to one year).

The Conservative Party attracted headlines for its promise to introduce a new statutory right to unpaid time off for caring and also promised a new right to child bereavement leave. This was echoed by the Labour Party's pledge to consult on introducing statutory bereavement leave.

What does this mean for employers?

It seems that there is a consensus that more needs to be done to make family life and employment more compatible. It is likely that this will result in legislative developments to watch in the next parliament. None of these plans, however, amount to a fundamental change in the way that family leave works for employers.


The idea of a living wage has become so mainstream that all of the main parties now support it. Problem solved? Not quite. This election sees the parties focus on how to set an appropriate level for the living wage.

For the Conservatives, this means 60% of median earnings by 2020. For Labour and the Green Party, it means Ł10 an hour by 2020. For the SNP, it means introducing a real living wage and for the Liberal Democrats, it means consulting on how to set a genuine living wage.

But there is a consistent theme across all of these policies that suggests that the National Living Wage will increase between now and 2020.

What does this mean for employers?

The National Living Wage will increase between now and 2020. It remains to be seen what it will increase to and whether it will be extended to cover all workers aged over 18.


The UK has both a skills shortage and a problem around productivity. It is, therefore, no surprise that many of the parties focus on education and training.

Whether it is the Conservative Party's T-Levels, the development of new vocationally focused institutes or colleges (as suggested by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats) or committing to revive Further Education colleges by investing in teachers and facilities (Labour), there is a recognition that technical and vocational education needs more investment.

Fostering a culture of lifelong learning is seen by many as being crucial if the UK is to meet the challenges of the next industrial revolution and tackle the productivity gap. The Conservative Party offer a new right for employees of any employer to request leave for training (this right already exists for those working for large employers). Labour will double-down on their commitment to Further Education colleges by using them to provide free, lifelong education to all at any point in life. The Liberal Democrats have similarly universal aspirations with plans for individual accounts to fund adult and part-time learning and training.

What does this mean for employers?

Employers are increasingly being seen as necessary partners in technical and vocational education. There are opportunities here for employers to shape the policy debate on skills and education to ensure that the country's schools, colleges, technical institutes and universities deliver the skilled workforce that they need.

On a practical level, a shift in emphasis towards promoting lifelong learning may see employers have to consider requests for training leave. Larger employers may need to consider policies that enable them to evaluate such requests.


Trade unions

The Labour Party manifest contains a wide range of policies dealing with trade unions. This focus is not reflected by other parties. The Labour Party seek to roll back what they view as anti-trade union legislation. They would also utilise the heft of the public procurement budget to require businesses to meet standards on trade union recognition.

Corporate governance and employee representation

The Conservative Party will require listed companies to either:

  • nominate a director from the workforce;
  • create a formal employee advisory council; or
  • assign specific responsibility for employee representation to a designated non-executive director.

This will be backed by a right to request information for employees of publically-listed companies.

Terminal illnesses

The Labour Party will make terminal illnesses a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Caste discrimination

The Liberal Democrats will outlaw caste discrimination.

Equal pay and pay gap reporting

The Scottish National Party will extend the scope of equal pay reporting, making such reports apply to employers with more than 150 employees (down from 250) and covering race and disability as well as gender. The Conservative Party will require companies with more than 250 employees to publish more data on the pay gap between men and women.

Pay ratios and executive pay

The Labour Party promise to roll out maximum pay ratios of 20:1 in the public sector and in companies bidding for public contracts. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives go for a more restrained approach in requiring large or listed employers to report on the ratio between top and median pay levels.

Employment Tribunal fees

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party pledge to abolish Employment Tribunal fees. This is not covered in the Conservative, UKIP or Green Party manifestos.

New bank holidays

UKIP offer two new bank holidays for everyone in England and Wales. These will be on the St. George's Day in England and St. David's Day in Wales. The 23 June will be declared Independence Day and made a bank holiday.

Labour offer four new bank holidays for everyone, as each of the national patron saints' days will become a public holiday across the whole of the UK.

Manifesto table

You can see the full details of what each of the parties is promising on employment, and compare these commitments, in our comprehensive Employment and Pensions Manifesto Commitments table.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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