What is to come for employment law (under a Conservative government)?
13 December 2019
The general election has produced a decisive Conservative win with Boris Johnson as Prime minister – what will this mean for employment law?
A Conservative government is unlikely to be intent on significantly strengthening employment rights, but can be expected to follow through on various employment law reforms already in progress whilst prioritising “getting Brexit done”. We look back over the main pledges from the Conservative party manifesto and outline the changes we might expect to see in relation to employment law.
Post-Brexit employment rights
Boris Johnson intends to bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill back to Parliament before Christmas Day in the expectation of MPs ratifying it prior to the UK leaving the EU on 31 January 2020. The Conservatives have ruled out extending the transition period beyond 31 December 2020. The manifesto contained no detail about the long term plan for employment law, although did include a pledge to ensure high standards of worker’s rights. For more information about the implications of Boris Johnson’s deal, and the scope for long term divergence from the EU on employment rights, see our Brexit hub.
Employment status and protections
There was little in the Conservative manifesto about the Good Work Plan and nothing about the unresolved issue of employment status. However, the Conservatives did say they will ensure that workers have the right to request a more predictable working contract – something which was already promised in the Good Work Plan and which forms part of the requirements of the EU Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive. The manifesto also mentions other “reasonable protections” which may refer to rights to reasonable notice of work schedules and compensation for shift cancellation, which are already under consultation.
The Conservatives also pledge to create a new state enforcement body to tackle non-compliance in the labour market following a consultation published last July. The plan outlined in the consultation was to bring together the existing patchwork of state enforcement under the remit of a single body, and then expand its remit to cover holiday pay for vulnerable workers and umbrella companies operating in the agency workers sector. All three major political parties wanted to establish some kind of new state enforcement agency and saw a role for stronger state enforcement action, but a Conservative government is likely to focus on targeting the most exploitative employers.
The Conservative party have stated that they will review the proposed changes to the IR35 rules ahead of their planned introduction to the private sector next year in April 2020. The Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid spoke about wanting to ensure that the proposed changes were “right to take forward”. Businesses will be hoping that the changes will now be reconsidered. However, the changes are set to generate significant revenue and tackle a long-standing HMRC concern over non-compliance so, whilst their introduction may now hang in the balance, it remains sensible to continue preparations.
The Conservatives have promised to address the complex reasons why some groups earn less at work, which suggests that pay disparity and transparency have not fallen off the agenda. However, the Conservative manifesto made no mention of compulsory ethnicity pay gap reporting (which was subject to a consultation last year) and so we do not expect that proposal to be enacted any time soon, as had been promised by the other major political parties.
In contrast, the Conservative manifesto suggested that they had already “reformed redundancy law so companies cannot discriminate against women immediately after returning from maternity or adoption leave”. It seems that this actually refers to a planned reform which would provide priority access to redeployment opportunities for pregnant women or new parents in a redundancy situation, which will presumably now be implemented.
The Conservatives will take forward plans to allow parents to take extended leave for neonatal care (following a consultation published in July). The manifesto said they would look at ways to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave, extend carers leave, encourage flexible working arrangements and consult about making flexible working arrangements the default unless employers have a good reason otherwise. It’s not clear what this will entail, but we can expect a consultation on extending flexible working rights at some point during this government’s term in office.
The Conservatives plan to increase the National Living Wage to two-thirds of the average earnings (which is currently forecast to be £10.50 an hour) and extend it to those over the age of 21. They believe that this would offer an average pay rise of £4,000 annually for four million people by 2024. (The manifesto made no mention of equivalent increases for the other rates of the NMW).
Finally, the Conservative manifesto did not set out any radical reforms in relation to trade unions and industrial action, except to state that a minimum service will be required during transport strikes.
With a Conservative government, the main issue is getting Brexit done and this is going to be the priority following the election. With the manifesto focussed on themes other than employment rights, it is hard to see what the longer term future for employment law entails. However, we can expect many of the employment law reforms already in the pipeline to be progressed.
For information on what a Conservative Government means for immigration law, you can read our full article here.
Although much of our employment law derives from the EU, Brexit will have limited implications for employment law in the immediate term. However, there is still some scope for the UK to amend its laws under the terms of the Trade Agreement reached with the EU, and ongoing uncertainty about the future status of key ECJ employment decisions.
The UK left the EU at 11pm (UK time) on 31 January 2020, and the transition period came to an end on 31 December 2020. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement reached on Christmas Eve 2020 sets out the shape of the ongoing future relationship between the UK and the EU and provides some degree of certainty for UK businesses.