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General Election 2019 – what are the parties saying about key issues on employment, equality, Brexit and immigration?

  • United Kingdom
  • Brexit
  • Employment law

28-11-2019

With the General Election 2 weeks away the manifestos have all been published. And all of them - to varying degrees - contain promises on what the relevant party will do if it is successful in the election.

In this briefing, we summarise the key promises made in areas that will be of interest to organisations in relation to:

These promises are set out below as they are expressed in the relevant manifestos for the following parties (in alphabetical order) – Brexit (immigration and Brexit only); Conservative; Green; Labour; Liberal Democrat; Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party.

Employment

Conservative Party

The manifesto says it has already taken forward a number of recommendations from the Taylor Review and will build on existing employment laws with measures that protect those in low-paid work and the gig economy, for example by:

  • creating a single enforcement body and cracking down on any employer abusing employment law, whether by taking workers’ tips or refusing them sick pay
  • ensuring that workers have the right to request a more predictable contract and other reasonable protections

Elsewhere in the manifesto it states that it has “introduced and consistently raised” the National Living Wage and that, in its first months, it announced an increase in the National Living Wage to two thirds of average earnings and widened its reach to everyone over 21.

Green Party

Employment areas covered in the manifesto include promises to:

  • increase the Living Wage to £12 and extend it to workers aged between 16 and 21
  • legislate to ensure the maximum wage paid to any member of staff in an organisation should not exceed ten times that paid (pro rata) to the lowest paid worker and ban any bonuses exceeding the annual wage of the lowest paid worker
  • ensure that gig economy workers always receive at least the current minimum wage, and have job security, sick leave, holiday pay and pension provision
  • require all employers to legally recognise any union chosen by their workforce to represent them
  • support employers to explore four day working weeks in their workplace

Labour Party

Like most of the other parties, the manifesto addresses low pay and promises to introduce a Real Living Wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers aged 16 and over.

Other measures include giving “working people a voice at the Cabinet table”, by establishing a Ministry for Employment Rights and expressing the intention to roll out sectoral collective bargaining across the economy, “bringing workers and employers together” to agree legal minimum standards on a wide range of issues, such as pay and working hours, that every employer in a particular sector must follow.

The Party says it will “tackle insecurity” by:

  • giving everyone full rights from day one on the job
  • strengthening protections for whistleblowers and rights against unfair dismissal for all workers, with extra protections for pregnant women, those going through the menopause and terminally ill workers
  • ending “bogus” self-employment and creating a single status of ‘worker’ for everyone apart from those genuinely self-employed in business on their own account
  • introducing a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces
  • banning zero-hour contracts and strengthening the law so that those who work regular hours for more than 12 weeks will have a right to a regular contract, reflecting those hours
  • increasing wages through sectoral collective bargaining
  • requiring breaks during shifts to be paid, cancelled shifts to be paid and proper notice for changes in hours

The manifesto also contains plans to remove “unfair and unnecessary” restrictions on trade unions by:

  • allowing trade unions to use secure electronic and workplace ballots
  • removing unnecessary restrictions on industrial action
  • strengthening and enforcing trade unions’ right of entry to workplaces to organise, meet and represent their members and to recruit
  • strengthening protection of trade union representatives against unfair dismissal and union members from intimidation, harassment, threats and blacklisting
  • repealing “anti-trade union legislation”, including the Trade Union Act 2016, and creating new rights and freedoms
  • simplifying the law around union recognition
  • giving union reps adequate time off for union duties

In relation to working time it says it will, within a decade, reduce average full-time weekly working hours to 32 across the economy by ending the opt-out provision in the EU Working Time Directive and setting up an independent Working Time Commission to advise on raising minimum holiday entitlements and reducing maximum weekly working time.

Finally, Labour says it will keep employment tribunals free, extend their powers, and introduce new Labour Courts with a stronger role for people with industrial experience on panels.

Liberal Democrat Party

The manifesto has a section on the future of work which contains commitments to:

  • establish an independent review to consult on how to set a genuine Living Wage across all sectors
  • establish a powerful new Worker Protection Enforcement Authority “to protect those in precarious work”
  • change the law so that flexible working is open to all from day one in the job, with employers required to advertise jobs accordingly, unless there are significant business reasons why that is not possible
  • strengthen the ability of unions to represent workers effectively in the modern economy, including a right of access to workplaces

There is also a focus on modernising employment rights “to make them fit for the age of the gig economy”, including:

  • establishing a new ‘dependent contractor’ employment status in between employment and self-employment, with the entitlement to basic rights such as minimum earnings levels, sick pay and holiday entitlement
  • reviewing the tax and National Insurance status of employees, dependent contractors and freelancers
  • setting a 20% higher minimum wage for people on zero-hour contracts at times of normal demand to compensate them for the uncertainty of fluctuating hours of work
  • giving a right (not to be unreasonably refused) to request a fixed-hours contract after 12 months for ‘zero hours’ and agency workers
  • shifting the burden of proof in employment tribunals regarding employment status from individual to employer

Plaid Cymru

The party says, as part of new public procurement regulations, it will ensure that all public sector workers in Wales plus those in the private sector, who work for businesses in receipt of public money, earn a real living wage.

It says it will also ban the use of zero-hour contracts in Wales.

Scottish National Party

The manifesto says that, pending Scottish independence (the SNP says that it wants an independence referendum in 2020), SNP MPs will demand that powers over employment are devolved to Scotland “to allow our parliament to get on with the crucial job of supporting employment and helping business to thrive”.

It says that in the meantime it will press for the statutory living wage to rise to at least the level of the Real Living Wage, and for an end to age discrimination in relation to statutory pay.

It also states that action is now needed on the Taylor Review findings to ensure those working in the gig economy (whether agency workers, those on zero hours or in insecure work) can access the employment rights “others in secure employment have”.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

Conservative Party

The manifesto contains a section on “fairness in the workplace”, in which it says it will:

  • encourage flexible working and consult on making this the default position unless employers have good reasons not to allow it
  • legislate to allow parents to take extended leave for neonatal care
  • look at ways to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave
  • extend the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers to one week

The manifesto also refers to having reformed redundancy law so companies cannot discriminate against women immediately after returning from maternity leave.

Green Party

There is a section in the manifesto on “tacking discrimination” which contains policies to:

  • close the gender pay gap by requiring all large and medium-sized companies to carry out equal pay audits and redress any inequality uncovered both in terms of equal pay for equal work, and recruitment and retention practices
  • change the law to make it easier to take action against employers in unequal pay cases
  • establish a cross-government strategy tasked with tackling ethnic inequalities
  • support employers to explore the benefits of offering menstruation and menopausal leave to workers
  • remove the spousal veto so that married trans people can acquire their gender recognition certificate without having to obtain permission from their spouse
  • change the law so an X gender marker can be added to passports for non-binary and intersex people who wish to use it
  • update the Gender Recognition Act to allow trans youth and non-binary people to obtain legal recognition through self-declaration

In addition, the manifesto says the Green Party will:

  • provide 35 hours per week of free childcare for all, from the age of nine months - including in-work facilities, such as on-site crèches and flexible working opportunities to help parents who choose to return to work.

Labour Party

It says it will make sure people are treated equally at work by:

  • requiring employers to devise and implement plans to eradicate the gender pay gap – and pay inequalities underpinned by race and/or disability – or face fines
  • requiring employers to maintain workplaces free of harassment, including harassment by third parties
  • increasing protection against redundancy for people wherever they work
  • giving statutory rights to equalities representatives
  • setting up a Royal Commission to bring health (including mental health) and safety legislation up to date

Another section promises to help people balance work and family life by:

  • giving all workers the right to flexible working from day one
  • extending statutory maternity pay from nine to 12 months
  • doubling paternity leave from two weeks to four and increasing statutory paternity pay
  • introducing statutory bereavement leave and four new bank holidays
  • reviewing family-friendly employment rights, including rights to respond to family emergencies

Under the proposals contained in the “women and equalities” section in the manifesto, Labour says it will:

  • create a new Department for Women and Equalities
  • take action to close the gender pay gap by 2030
  • deliver gender pay equality by making the State responsible for enforcing equal pay legislation
  • require all employers with over 250 employees (lowered to 50 by the end of 2020) to obtain government certification on gender equality or face further auditing and fines
  • ban the dismissal of pregnant women without prior approval of the inspectorate
  • require all large employers to have flexible working, including a menopause policy, and consider changes to sickness and absence practices
  • enable positive action for recruitment to roles where employers can justify the need for greater diversity
  • require that all employers are trained to better support disabled workers
  • introduce mandatory disability pay-gap reporting for companies with over 250 employees
  • update the Equality Act to introduce new specific duties including disability leave, paid and recorded separately from sick leave
  • recommend that the Equality and Human Rights Commission prepare a specific code of practice on reasonable adjustments to supplement existing codes

Labour says it is also committed to reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to introduce self-declaration for trans-gender people.

Liberal Democrat Party

The Liberal Democrats say that government needs to take an active role both in punishing discrimination and ensuring that it does not happen in the first place and they will:

  • reform the Gender Recognition Act by removing the requirement for medical reports, scrapping the fee and recognising non-binary gender identities
  • introduce an ‘X’ gender option on passports and extend equality law to cover gender identity and expression
  • outlaw caste discrimination

The party will also promote diversity by:

  • increasing statutory paternity leave from two weeks to six weeks, ensuring that parental leave is a day-one right, and addressing “continuing inequalities” faced by same-sex couples.
  • requiring organisations to publish parental leave and pay policies
  • requiring all companies with more than 250 employees to monitor and publish data on gender, BAME, and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps
  • extending the use of name-blind recruitment processes in the public sector and encouraging their use in the private sector
  • developing a free, comprehensive unconscious bias training toolkit and making the provision of unconscious bias training to all members of staff a condition of the receipt of public funds
  • developing a government-wide plan to tackle BAME inequalities and review the funding of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to ensure that it is adequate

Plaid Cymru

The manifesto has a section on “equalities” which includes commitments to:

  • support the reform of the Gender Recognition Act to introduce a streamlined, de-medicalised process
  • support efforts to reform the Equality Act to include ‘gender identity’ as a protected characteristic and to remove the use of the terms ‘gender reassignment’ and ‘transsexual’ from the Act
  • support a legal ban on employers making a woman redundant throughout pregnancy, and until six months after return from maternity leave, other than in very limited circumstances
  • legislate to add reporting of retention rates for women returning from maternity leave to the existing ‘gender pay gap’ reporting regime
  • support the call for maternity and paternity pay and leave to be extended in the case of babies that are born prematurely
  • make neuro-divergence a protected characteristic under the Equality Act and pass an Autism Act for Wales that adopts a rights-based approach for people with autism, or who are suspected of having autism but are yet to receive a diagnosis

Scottish National Party

Whilst there is no specific section on equality in the manifesto there are a number of proposals in relation to parental rights, with the Party saying it will seek legislation to:

  • increase maternity leave to one year
  • set maternity pay at 100% of average weekly earnings for the first 12 weeks, then 90% for 40 weeks or £150 (whichever is lower)
  • increase shared parental leave from 52 to 64 weeks, with the additional 12 weeks to be the minimum taken by the father in order to encourage an increase in the take-up of shared parental leave
  • introduce a principle of ‘use it or lose it’ – whereby paternity leave cannot be transferred in order to encourage fathers to take the leave - while protecting maternity leave if a couple choose not to take advantage of the provision
  • introduce an extra statutory paid week of leave for parents for every week their baby is in neonatal care
  • increase the period and rate of statutory paternity pay to 100% of average weekly earnings for one week then 100% for two weeks or £150 (whichever is lower)
  • increase the right of “dads” to attend antenatal appointments from the current two on an unpaid basis to paid leave for six appointments

The SNP says it will:

  • “continue to press” for extended legal protection against redundancy for pregnant parents, those on shared parental leave, and adoption leave, and new parents for up to six months after their return to work
  • maintain “our campaign” for a three month time limit for bringing a claim in redundancy cases to be extended to six months

In addition the manifesto says the SNP will:

  • consider proposals to ensure fairer pay by ensuring that the balance of salaries of all employees within a company or organisation are considered when senior pay packages are decided
  • demand tougher action to close the gender pay gap, including introducing fines for businesses that fail to meet an agreed Equal Pay Standard

Brexit and immigration

Brexit Party

Its policy is a “Clean-Break Brexit” with no extended transition period.

The Party says it will maintain subsidies and grants paid by the EU to UK businesses such as farmers, fisheries, universities and research bodies and reduce annual immigration and address wage stagnation and the skills gap by introducing a fair points system that is blind to ethnic origin.

Conservative Party

The Party promises it “will get Brexit done”. It says it will “keep the UK out of the single market, out of any form of customs union, and end the role of the European Court of Justice”. It promises to negotiate a trade agreement next year and will not extend the implementation period beyond December 2020.

It says it will then introduce a “firmer and fairer” Australian-style points-based immigration system and create bespoke visa schemes for new migrants who will “fill shortages in our public services, build the companies and innovations of the future and benefit Britain for years to come”.

It says that the proposed Australian-style points-based system will prioritise people who:

  • have a good grasp of English
  • have been law-abiding citizens in their own countries
  • have good education and qualifications

The new system will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally, and EU citizens who came to live in the UK before Brexit will be entitled to stay.

The manifesto goes on to say that the student visa system will help universities attract talented young people and allow those students to stay on to apply for work in the UK after they graduate. It adds that the start-up visa, alongside new rules for those of exceptional talent, will ensure that the UK can attract the entrepreneurs of the future who want to start great businesses in the UK.

Finally, the Party says it will continue to collaborate internationally and with the EU on scientific research, including Horizon.

Green Party

Party policy is for a People’s Vote, with the party campaigning to remain in the EU and, whatever the outcome, it says it will guarantee the full rights of EU citizens and their families living in the UK, including the right to automatic settled status.

It says it will also bring forward a new humane immigration system with no minimum income rules for visas and with full workplace rights for migrants.

Labour Party

The manifesto says Labour will secure a new Brexit deal including:

  • a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union
  • close alignment with the Single Market
  • dynamic alignment on workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental protections
  • continued participation in EU agencies and funding programmes
  • clear commitments on future security arrangements.

Once the Party has secured this new deal it says it will put it to a legally binding referendum (within the first six months of a Labour government) alongside the option of remaining in the EU. If the UK remains in the EU, freedom of movement would continue. If the UK leaves, this will be “subject to negotiations”, but with recognition of the benefits free movement has brought and the manifesto stating Labour would “seek to protect those rights”.

It promises to end the “uncertainty” created by the EU Settlement Scheme by granting EU nationals the automatic right to continue living and working in the UK by way of a declaratory system allowing EU nationals the chance to register for proof of status if they wish, but meaning they no longer have to apply to continue living and working in the UK.

Liberal Democrat Party

Party policy is to stop Brexit, revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU.

It also promises to:

  • move policymaking on work permits and student visas out of the Home Office and into the Departments for Business and Education respectively, and establish a new arms-length, non-political agency to take over processing applications
  • replace Tier 2 work visas with a “more flexible merit-based system”
  • create a new two-year visa for students to work after graduation

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru also want a People’s Vote - with the party campaigning to remain in the EU.

It says it will change the Settled Status application system into a registration system, ensuring that all EU citizens who are resident in the UK before exit day should have the right of permanent residence, and that every person who is entitled to settled status will have the same rights.

It will also seek the devolution of migration policy, so that Wales can set its own migration quota according to its own needs, with greater flexibility, for example, in processing entrepreneur visas.

Scottish National Party

As with employment, pending independence (the SNP believes the best future for Scotland is to become an independent member of the EU), the SNP says it will seek the devolution of immigration powers, so that Scotland can have an migration system “that works for our economy and society”.

In the interim its policy is to support a referendum with remain on the ballot paper to allow Brexit to be stopped for the whole of the UK but, if the only alternative is a no-deal Brexit, it will support the revocation of Article 50.

The SNP also believes there should be an additional route for migration to Scotland by means of a Scottish Visa. This would operate within the UK framework but the requirements would be set by the Scottish Government to reflect and address Scotland’s economic and demographic circumstances.

In relation to the existing immigration system the SNP says it:

  • is opposed to the minimum salary threshold under Tier 2 of £30,000 for experienced workers
  • will continue to campaign for an extension to the no-deal three-year ‘Temporary Leave to Remain’ scheme, as this “discriminates against students in Scotland”
  • continues to press for the Immigration Skills Charge to be scrapped

In relation to settled status, the manifesto says it is “deplorable that the UK Government is forcing” EU citizens living and working in Scotland to apply to retain their existing rights and it urges the UK Government to implement “a declaratory system with proof of status”.

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