The results are in and Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party have gained a majority in Parliament. Ben McCarthy, employment law writer at Croner-i, explores what this is likely to mean for employment law going forward.
In what has been possibly the most unpredictable election in decades, it is now confirmed that the Conservatives are to remain in power going forward. Throughout the election campaign, all major parties pledged a number of developments to employment law. With the UK once again electing a Conservative government, we can now talk about upcoming changes to the law with much more certainty.
Arguably the issue that won the election for the Tories, Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains committed to leaving the EU by 31 January 2020 and employers need to be ready for this. Currently, a deal is on the table that Johnson now intends to pass through Parliament as soon as possible. It should be noted that a new trade agreement between the UK and the EU still needs to be negotiated at this current time; a Brexit deal now therefore does not necessarily avoid the prospect of a no-deal Brexit by December 2020. It is important that employers still prepare for both outcomes and keep up to date on the continuing negotiations.
Following Brexit, a new Australian-style points-based immigration system has been proposed in order to reduce the overall number of migrants and attract the “brightest and the best” overseas workers. The Conservative manifesto insisted this new scheme will mean fewer low-skilled migrants entering the UK, with places instead being prioritised to high-skilled individuals with desirable qualifications. While this approach should allay fears over a lack of healthcare professionals for the NHS, organisations which often rely on access to overseas staff for low-skilled work may suffer as a result.
The minimum wage
Although initially announced back in October 2019, the Conservatives have reaffirmed their plans to increase the National Living Wage, which is the minimum amount payable to workers aged 25 and above and which currently stands at £8.21 per hour. The party has pledged to increase this rate to £10.50 per hour by 2024, while also lowering the age threshold incrementally to 23 and above in 2021 and finally 21 and above by 2024. While fewer age bands will make the system a little easier to understand, it means a significant increase in hourly pay for many workers, which some smaller organisations may struggle to achieve.
The Conservatives have also promised to help working parents manage the cost of childcare by establishing a new £1 billion fund to help create more high quality, affordable childcare, including before and after school and during the school holidays. There are also plans in place to strengthen the redundancy protections for women who return from maternity leave and allow parents to take extended leave for neonatal care. Additionally, a new right to one week of leave has been promised for unpaid carers, which could be a help to staff who currently have to juggle work and outside care commitments. These announcements could encourage many unemployed, or part-time, workers back into full-time employment, giving organisations access to a wider pool of talent.
A new £3bn “National Skills Fund” has been promised, which is also designed to help organisations find and hire the workers they need. The Conservatives insist the fund will provide equal amounts for individuals and smaller organisations to access high-quality education and training, which could prove extremely beneficial in filling existing knowledge gaps in many key industries. The manifesto also mentioned planned improvements to the apprenticeship levy, although no further information was given.
Single enforcement body
The Conservatives have intentions on making the UK “the best place in the world to work”, according to their manifesto, and plan to achieve this by creating a single enforcement body to oversee employment law breaches and prevent worker exploitation. Plans also include ensuring workers can request a more flexible contract and consulting on introducing flexible working by default.
The Conservative manifesto on employment law would seem to not be as far-reaching or ambitious as other parties, however it should also be noted that previous developments to the law, such as enacting provisions of the Good Work Plan, will likely proceed as planned with no changes. Going forward, it is probable that Brexit will continue to be a major contributing factor to many developments and employers should remain fully up to date with the implications of this.