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Conservative manifesto - what's in store for workers?

Posted on 19 May 2017 by Asa Waring, Greg Campbell & Daniel Naftalin

Conservative manifesto - what's in store for workers?

In a manifesto somewhat light on detail in what Theresa May hailed as the "greatest extension of rights and protections for employees by any Conservative government", there are nevertheless a few points to note. Here we present some of the highlights:

  • Pay - At the lower end of the pay scale, the manifesto promises an increase in the National Living Wage to 60 per cent of median earnings by 2020, while at the other end executive pay packages will be subject to increased scrutiny, along with a new requirement for listed companies to publish the ratio of executive pay to workforce pay. This in recognition that the gap between those paid the most and those paid the least has tripled in less than 20 years.
  • Workers on boards - The issue of workers on boards has created much debate since Theresa May first announced it in her prime ministerial campaign speech. Already watered down in a wider consultation on corporate governance, the manifesto sets out three options for worker representation; a director nominated from the workforce, an employee advisory council, or assigning a non-executive director in charge of representing employee interests.
  • Gig economy - On the hot topic of the gig economy, new protection for gig economy workers is promised. Clarity around the matter of worker status is long overdue, with the current laws struggling to keep up to date with a changing business landscape. It is not clear what form such protection will take, with any recommendations in the Taylor review, expected in the summer, likely to play a part.
  • Gender pay - On gender equality it is hinted that employers may be asked to publish further data on the gender pay gap over and above what is already required under the gender pay gap reporting regulations introduced last month. Steps are also promised to improve take-up of shared parental leave. As for the latter, it is hard to see how take-up can be improved without a financial incentive so it will be interesting to see how this will be implemented.
  • Race pay gap - Continuing the theme of pay gaps, the manifesto states that large employers will be required to publish information on the pay gap for people from different ethnic backgrounds, recognising that not only is there a gender pay gap problem, there is also a race pay gap one. Reporting on the race pay gap is likely to require employers to commit resources to collating relevant data as, unlike with gender, many employers will not have records of their employees' ethnic background.
  • Carer, bereavement and training leave –proposals that were already in the headlines before the manifesto launch, the manifesto itself makes brief mention of a new statutory right to carer's leave and bereavement leave on the loss of a child. It is likely that at least the former will be unpaid and so, though admirable in principle, most people will simply not be able to take advantage of the entitlement.  The proposed right to request leave for training appears to be the same as an existing right to do just that, and which currently applies to companies with more than 250 employees. That right is thought to have had limited, if any, take-up due to the leave being unpaid. Introduced by Labour, the planned extension of the right to smaller employers was reversed by the Coalition government. 
  • Mental health - The pledge to allow workers with intermittent mental health conditions to be protected against disability discrimination, presumably without the need to show the condition lasting more than a year, is a positive move, protecting those who may otherwise have difficulty bringing their condition within the disability discrimination framework.

For all these pledges around workers' rights, the detail will be key. It is only once we know exactly how far the protections will extend and how easy they will be to enforce - bearing in mind that unlike in both the Labour and Lib Dem manifestos there is no suggestion to scrap employment tribunal fees - that we can get an accurate picture of what impact, if any, they'll have on employers and workers in practice.