Thu 12 Oct 2023

What will the next general election mean for employment law?

With a general election likely next year we look at what that might mean for workplace rights.

The next general election is due by 28 January 2025.  Although we don't have a significant amount of information about what the other political parties may seek to achieve, should they win power, both the current UK Government and their main opposition, the Labour Party, have published enough information to give us a reasonable idea of what their future intentions are as regards the workplace.

Conservative Party

2023 has seen a significant amount of employment law related legislation making its way through the Houses of Parliament.  We know that new laws relating to flexible working, neonatal leave and pay, carer's leave, allocation of tips and protection from redundancy for pregnant workers will come into force over the next 12 to 18 months.  Legislation introducing an employer's duty to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and the right to request a more predictable working pattern are also due to come into force. We have also seen the introduction (and in one case quashing) of new legislation around striking.  While some of these new laws have cross party support, not all do and the result of the next election may impact on whether we see some of them taking effect or being revoked.

Announcements have also been made that legislation will be introduced to Parliament ("when parliamentary time allows") that will restrict the use of non-compete clauses to three months and also regulate the use of non-disclosure agreements.  The policy paper that introduced the restriction on non-compete clauses - Smarter regulation to grow the economy - also proposed reducing the reporting burdens under the Working Time Regulations (scrapping the need to record working hours), simplifying how holiday pay is calculated and re-introducing "rolled up" holiday pay.  It also proposed amending  the TUPE Regulations to allow smaller employers to consult directly with employees where fewer than 10 employees are affected by a transfer. 

These proposals align with the Conservative party's focus on what they describe as a "red tape challenge" and a general desire to reduce regulation and restrictions that they believe will help facilitate growth of the economy.  Should the Conservative party remain in power following the next general election we may well see a degree of further de-regulation.

Labour Party

The Labour Party published a green paper - A new deal for working people - setting out a significant number of changes that they say they will make should they form the next UK Government.  Under the caveat that it is considerably easier to make proposals while in opposition and when you are not responsible for funding or balancing the budget, the paper makes for some interesting reading.

Proposals include ending minimum length of service periods for rights including sick pay, parental leave and unfair dismissal.  In relation to flexible working, it is proposed to make this a day 1 default right, with employers required to accommodate a request as far as is reasonable.  Other proposals include:-

  • Making unfair dismissal a day 1 right
  • Extending time limits for bringing employment tribunal claims and scrapping the cap on compensation for unfair dismissal claims
  • Banning zero hour contracts
  • Banning unpaid internships (unless part of an education or training course)
  • Introducing a right to "disconnect"
  • Outlawing fire and rehire practices
  • Ensuring travel time and "sleep over" hours in certain sectors is paid
  • Strengthening a number of pre-existing family friendly rights including extending maternity and paternity leave and making carer's leave paid
  • Establishing "Fair Pay Agreements" to empower workers to act collectively, the agreements being negotiated through sectoral collective bargaining and establishing minimum terms and conditions that are binding on all employers and workers in the sector
  • Creating a single status of "worker" for all but the genuinely self-employed
  • Repealing and reviewing legislation relating to trade unions and striking
  • Establishing a new single enforcement body to enforce workers' rights

This is only a selection of the proposals set out in the paper.  Should all of them be implemented, it would amount to the largest shake up of employment rights for many years.  However, experience tells us that not all changes promised before elections come to fruition once a party is in power. 

Have the political parties missed any important issues?

Between them, the two main political parties are making a significant number of proposals but there are areas of employment law that are conspicuous by their absence.  This includes any detail on how the continuing gender pay gap can be more effectively managed.  Additionally, although the Labour Party has said they will enact the socio-economic duty under the Equality Act 2010, both parties seem to lack ambition when it comes to proactively addressing social mobility and its impact on access to employment. 

Of course, a week is a long time in politics and there is still plenty of time for both parties to reconsider existing issues or to raise new ones.  We can also expect to see manifestos from the other political parties being published, and for that reason we will return to consider what a general election might mean for employment law once we know when the next election will take place. 

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