Implications of 2017 General Election for Employment Law

June 9, 2017

In the run up to the General Election on 8 June 2017 I have examined the relevant policies of the main parties in respect of employment law. It is important to note that many of the issues noted below are matters which are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is therefore important to consider the policies of both the Northern Irish parties and the parties in mainland GB. Although employment law in Northern Ireland is increasingly divergent from GB it is heavily influenced by it. Also the added uncertainty surrounding the future of Stormont and possibility of direct rule necessitates a holistic consideration of party policies.

Mainland GB Parties

Conservatives

  • The Conservative Party manifesto reiterates that workers will enjoy the same rights after Brexit as they currently do.
  • The proposals in the 2015 manifesto to repeal the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights appear to have been shelved for the meantime.
  • National living wage is set to increase in line with the current target.
  • The “gig economy” will be reviewed but no firm details have been provided yet and it is not known if zero hours contracts will be targeted.
  • Plans to introduce new rights such as rights to request leave for training, care for sick relatives and child bereavement leave.
  • Increase the Immigration Skills Charge from £1,000 to £2,000 a year.

Labour

  • Guarantee all existing protections under EU law after Brexit.
  • Ban zero hours contracts so that every employee has a minimum number of hours a week.
  • Give workers the right after 12 weeks to switch to a regular contract with full employee rights.
  • Add an additional four bank holidays per year which would be added on to the statutory holiday entitlement for UK workers.
  • Increase minimum wage and crack down on employers who do not pay it.
  • Abolish employment tribunal fees.
  • Increase employment rights and tackle issue of definitions of employee/worker/self employed.
  • Introduce an independent body to ensure compliance with the gender pay gap reporting obligations.
  • Abolish unpaid internships.

Liberal Democrats

  • Oppose a hard Brexit and make the final Brexit deal subject to a referendum which would provide an option of remaining in the European Union.
  • Extend parental rights and discrimination rights of employees.
  • Create a right for workers to request a fixed term contract and modernise employment law for the age of the “gig economy”.
  • Abolish employment tribunal fees.
  • End the public sector 1% cap on pay rises and require “name blind” recruitment policies in the public sector.
  • Impose additional reporting requirements on large employers
  • Require diversity in public appointments introducing a presumption that every shortlist should include at least one BAME candidate.

Northern Irish Parties

DUP

  • Take firm actions against employers who do not comply with minimum wage laws.
  • Reduce corporation tax in Northern Ireland to 12.5%.
  • Maintain worker rights.
  • Seek a better deal for Northern Ireland on the Apprentice Levy.
  • Work to get the best deal possible for Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations.

Sinn Fein

  • Oppose a hard Brexit and maintain EU protections for workers.
  • Continue to maintain free movement of people, goods and services between Northern Ireland and ROI.
  • Prioritise the building of affordable homes over a reduction in corporation tax.
  • Strengthen disability legislation, racial discrimination legislation and promote gender equality.

UUP

  • Work to secure the best possible deal for Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations and oppose a hard border with ROI.
  • Call for removal of Article 71 of the Fair Employment and Equal Treatment (NI) Order 1998 which exempts teachers in schools from protection against discrimination on the basis of religion.
  • Support lowering of corporation tax in Northern Ireland.
  • Generally work to align employment laws with the rest of UK to promote simplicity and clarity.

SDLP

  • Secure a special status for Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations.
  • Work to oppose any attempts to water down worker rights.
  • Maintain freedom to move, work and trade across the border with ROI.
  • Support efforts to curtail the emergence of “in work poverty” by review of practices such as zero hours contracts.
  • Use savings generated by the Voluntary Exit Scheme for restorative pay measures for the public sector rather than a cut in corporation tax (whilst still supporting the devolution of the tax to the Northern Ireland Assembly).

Alliance

  • Support a special status for Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations and maintain employee rights
  • Work to ensure that the new Apprenticeship Levy works in the interests of local employers and apprentices.
  • Introduce regulations restricting zero hours contracts.
  • Oppose the application to Northern Ireland of Trade Union legislation currently being progressed.
  • Renewing efforts to tackle equal pay and implement regulations on gender reporting for large employers.

Overall it is notable that none of the main parties are openly calling for employee rights to be curtailed after Brexit and it seems that the protections afforded by EU law are set to remain. It seems that if Labour were to win the election there would be a clear shift in employment law in favour of employees. Whether or not the law in Northern Ireland would keep pace with any changes or diverge further from mainland GB remains to be seen.

This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor.