With the general election now only one week away, the largest political parties have now launched their manifestos. On the employment and immigration landscape, these include some familiar proposals as well as some potentially transformative changes. Given the uncertain political landscape, it remains to be seen exactly how relevant these proposals will be. However, it is interesting to review how the different parties have approached employment and immigration issues.
The Conservative Party
The Conservative manifesto pledges to prioritise the "principle of fairness in the workplace", and to protect those in low-paid and casual work. The key stated intentions from an employment point of view are:
- Leave the EU with the deal currently negotiated, with a view to leaving on terms that would no longer require regulatory alignment after the implementation period.
- Provide workers the right to request a more predictable contract.
- Legislate to enable parents to take extended leave for neonatal care.
- Support working families by funding more high-quality childcare both before and after school and during the holidays.
- Introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system, under which most people will require a clear job offer before coming to the UK.
- Introduce bespoke visas for those who will make "the biggest contribution".
- Freeze the rates of income tax, National Insurance and VAT.
- Increase the National Insurance threshold to £9,500 in 2020, with the overall goal of ensuring that the first £12,500 of a person's earnings are completely free of tax.
The Labour Party
The Labour manifesto promises voters "the biggest extension in workers' rights in history". The party's proposed reforms span various different aspects of employment relationships and business structures:
- Position on EU membership to be determined following negotiation of a new deal and a confirmatory referendum.
- Give every worker "full rights" from day one of a job.
- Create a single status of "worker" for everyone except those who self-identify as self-employed in business.
- Ban unpaid internships and zero-hours contracts.
- Reduce average full-time weekly working hours to 32 across the economy within a decade, without loss in pay.
- End the ability to opt out of the 48 hour working week.
- Introduce four new bank holidays.
- Introduce a 'Real Living Wage' of at least £10 per hour, which would apply for all workers aged 16 and over.
- Raise the income tax rate for those earning over £80,000 and freeze National Insurance and income tax rates for all earners below £80,000.
- Introduce sectoral collective bargaining to create binding legal minimum standards across entire sectors.
- Establish Inclusive Ownership Funds (IOFs) to give employees a stake of up to 10% in the companies that employ them.
- Enhance family friendly rights by extending statutory maternity pay to 12 months, extending pregnancy protection, doubling paternity leave from two to four weeks and increasing statutory paternity pay, as well as a commitment to further review family-friendly rights.
If implemented, Labour's proposals would represent a significant shift in the nature of the employment relationship.
The Liberal Democrat Party
The Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges to modernise regulations to apply more fairly in a changing workplace, particularly concerning those that apply to workers in the gig economy. Their key pledges are:
- Remain in the EU and therefore keep regulatory alignment.
- Introduce a "dependent contractor" employment status to sit between "employment" and "self-employment". A "dependent contractor" would be entitled to national minimum wage protection, sick pay and holiday.
- Set the minimum wage for people on zero-hours contracts at 20% higher than the standard national minimum wage for periods of normal demand. This is intended to off-set periods of uncertain hours.
- Expand the rights and benefits available to those in insecure forms of employment, such as offering parental leave.
- Changing the law so that flexible working is open to all from day one in the job and requiring employers to advertise the job as such.
- Increase statutory paternity leave to up to six weeks, and require organisations to publish parental leave and pay policies.
- Strengthen worker participation in decision-making, including staff representation on remuneration committees, and requiring all UK-listed companies and all private companies with more than 250 employees to have at least one employee representative on their boards with the same legal duties and responsibilities as other directors.
The Scottish National Party
In its manifesto, the SNP promises to fight to fully devolve the powers to change employments laws to the Scottish Parliament. Their stated key priorities include taking the steps set out below:
- Remain in the EU, either with the rest of the UK or as an independent country, and therefore keep regulatory alignment.
- Increase the Employment Allowance available to employers making National Insurance contributions from £3,000 a year to £6,000, when businesses increase employment levels.
- Improve worker representation on company boards, in particular of women and those from minority backgrounds.
- Increase the statutory living wage to rise at least to the level of the real living wage.
- Increase shared parental leave from 52 weeks to 64 weeks, and raise the minimum time to be taken by the father to 12 weeks.
- Make the minimum wage for those aged 16 – 24 the same as over 25 year olds, and ban unpaid trial shifts.
- Push for a separate Scottish visa system and for the Scottish government to have a role in deciding the "shortage occupation list" to attract workers to Scottish needs.
Given the differences between the party manifestos when it comes to employment and immigration laws, as well as workers' rights, it is clear that the outcome of this election could have a significant impact on businesses and the workforce going forward. Following the outcome of the election, if not before, employers may wish to be proactive and take advice on and assess the potential impact of these proposals on their business. If you would like more details on the various election proposals, please contact the Dentons PRM team.
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