General Election 2019: What are the parties promising workers?

November 29, 2019
Rebecca Ireland


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With the 12 December 2019 Election fast approaching, it would be remiss of us not to look at what the main political parties, Conservative and Labour, are promising in relation to employment law and industrial relations if they are elected.  In case you want to look at the other parties’ views, and in the interests of being neutral, we have provided links below.

Conservative Party

Read the full manifesto here.

“We will build a Britain in which everyone has the opportunity to make the most of their talents. We will ensure that work will always pay.”

The Conservative’s manifesto contains more high level promises than Labour’s manifesto (see below) and any reference to trade unions and collective bargaining is notably (understandably) absent. 

Being currently in Government, the Conservatives can point to positive contributions they have already made to workers’ lives.  For example, “In our first months, we announced an increase in the National Living Wage to two thirds of average earnings, currently forecast at £10.50 an hour, and widened its reach to everyone over 21. That means an average pay rise of £4,000 per year for four million people by 2024.” and “To help young people get a foot on the employment ladder, we abolished employers’ National Insurance Contributions for under-21s and apprentices under 25.”

The Conservatives promise to create a single enforcement body and crack down on any employer abusing employment law. They don’t provide any further details; therefore, it is difficult to assess how this would differ from Labour’s proposed Workers’ Protection Agency.

The Conservatives want to support working families, enabling individuals to combine a rewarding career with raising a family or caring for elderly or disabled relatives, rather than being forced to prioritise between them.

Other promises include:

  • ensuring that workers have the right to request a more predictable contract and other reasonable protections.
  • encouraging flexible working and they will consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to.
  • allowing parents to take extended leave for neonatal care, to support those new mothers and fathers who need it during the most vulnerable and stressful days of their lives.
  • looking at ways to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave.
  • extending the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers, the majority of whom are women, to a week.
  • making childcare, including before and after school and during school holidays, more affordable for working parents by setting up a £1 billion fund.
  • not raising rates of income tax, NICs or VAT, and raising the NIC threshold to £9,500, which they say will benefit 31 million workers. They also would raise the standard personal income allowance from £11,850 to £12,500.

The Conservatives will continue the progress they have made since 2010 of increasing the number of apprentices.  They will create a New Skills Fund worth £3 billion so that individuals and SMEs can apply for matched funding for high quality education and training, particularly in anticipation of clean tech industries and technological changes.  This will focus on those individuals who are not yet in work, those keen to return to work after having a family, or those wishing to switch careers.

Labour Party

Labour’s view is that:

“Work should provide a decent life for all, guaranteeing not just dignity and respect in the workplace, but also the income and leisure time to allow for a fulfilling life outside it.”

To achieve this vision, Labour’s manifesto pledges a myriad of proposals but we have selected some key ones for this article.

In order to address poverty within working families, Labour will introduce a real living wage of at least £10 for all workers aged 16 or over, and help small companies to manage this extra cost.  In addition, if workers are employed by a large company, they will receive dividends of up to £500 p.a. as a result of Inclusive Ownership Funds being set up, which give employees 10% ownership of the employing company.

Labour wants to give workers a louder voice in the Cabinet by setting up a Ministry for Employment Rights, and through strengthening trade union powers, including compulsory collective bargaining on minimum standards for pay and working hours by sector, that every employer will have to follow. They say that this will stop good employers being undercut by bad employers.  Labour believes that: “strong unions is the best and most effective way to enforce rights at work”.  They would also set up a Workers’ Protection Agency to enforce workplace rights, which would include extensive powers to inspect workplaces and bring prosecutions and civil proceedings on a worker’s behalf.  To help individuals enforce their rights, employment tribunal claims would remain free.

Labour will give everyone full employment rights from day one on the job.  This is not explained further but it appears the two years qualifying service for “normal” unfair dismissal claims will vanish.  This would have a huge impact on the way that employers manage new starters during their probationary periods.

Labour will also strengthen protection for whistleblowers, pregnant employees, women during menopause and the terminally ill, and increase redundancy protection, although no detail is given.

As part of helping employees balance work and family life, various measures would be taken, including:

  • extending statutory maternity pay from 9 months to 12 months
  • doubling paternity leave from 2 to 4 weeks and increasing statutory paternity pay.
  • removing the 26 weeks’ qualifying service for making flexible working requests
  • introducing four new bank holidays
  • statutory bereavement leave
  • reducing average working hours to 32 hours per week within ten years, without loss of pay as productivity would be expected to increase.

In relation to the equality, diversity and inclusion agenda, Labour would:

  • re-introduce an employer’s liability for harassment by third parties.
  • make the State (not individuals) responsible for enforcing equal pay, through the new Workers’ Protection Agency.  With the average gender pay gap at 13% after nearly 50 years of Equal Pay legislation, Labour wants this closed by 2030 (although of course a pay gap does not automatically mean there is an unequal pay claim).
  • require workplaces with more than 50 employees to obtain government certification on gender equality or face fines.
  • extend pay-gap reporting to BAME groups.
  • ban dismissal of pregnant women without prior approval of the inspectorate (presumably sitting in the Workers’ Protection Agency).
  • allow positive action in the recruitment process where an employer can justify this is needed for diversity.  No details are given so it is unclear how this will compare to the positive action employers can already take.
  • require all employers to be trained to better support disabled people, introduce mandatory disability pay gap reporting for employers with over 250 employees, and produce a specific Code of Practice on reasonable adjustments to supplement existing Codes.
  • improve awareness of neuro-diversity.

From a corporate governance perspective, a proposal that is likely to cause much future discussion is for a 1/3rd of an employer’s board to comprise elected worker-directors, so as to give workers more control over executive’s pay.

The Liberal Democrat Party’s manifesto also proposes to strengthen worker’s rights, and briefly deals with corporate governance and immigration.

Other party manifestos:

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