Uncertain times ahead

Published: 22 May 2015

While you may think David Cameron’s outright victory in this month’s general election would have a clear impact in terms of employment law and workers’ rights, constitutional issues with both Europe and Scotland could throw this into question.  

We do know the Tories are committed to continuing to implement business-friendly policies to help shore up the recovery by enhancing UK companies’ competitiveness and flexibility.

The party made pre-election pledges to cut “a further £10billion of red tape” and to introduce a “One-In-Two-Out” rule when it comes to regulations.

We have heard about plans to introduce tougher rules on union strike ballots including the requirement for a majority of a minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots to vote in favour, rather than the current rules which require a simple majority of those who turn up to vote, before industrial action can take place, alongside proposals requiring a minimum turnout of 40% of the workforce to vote for industrial action within essential public services, such as fire, transport, health and education; a repeal of the restriction on using agency workers to cover strikes and a doubling of the current seven-day notice period to be given to employers in advance of a walk out.  

Liam Kerr

The Conservatives also support the Low Pay Commission’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to £6.70 this October, with a stated desire to increase it towards £8 per hour by the end of this parliament, whilst encouraging business to pay the Living Wage.

The party has also promised to reform zero-hours contracts with a ban on “exclusivity clauses”, but thankfully not an outright ban on this type of contract.  

Finally, there is a commitment to increase free childcare for working parents to 30 hours per week for three to four-year-olds and a suggestion that public sector employers and companies with 250 or more employees allow individuals three paid days off a year to undertake voluntary work.

Which of these and any other Conservative employment policies will apply to Scotland, however, remains to be seen as a number of employment-related powers could be transferred north as part of the delicate negotiations that are expected following the election of 56 SNP MPs to Westminster.

The Nationalists’ stated aim of “full fiscal autonomy”, including powers over employment legislation and the minimum wage in the context of greater devolution, may see two
different employment redress systems, depending on where a claim is brought.

Whilst 56 MPs may struggle to influence a majority government, they do have an opportunity to put pressure on through enhanced participation in prime minister’s questions and increased presence in select committees.

Furthermore, given that many of the UK’s employment laws come from European Directives (such as anti-discrimination laws, equal pay, TUPE, and collective redundancy consultation) an in-out referendum on EU membership by 2017 could have the biggest impact should the UK vote for withdrawal from the EU.

In such event, the Nationalists suggest there could be another Scottish independence referendum  –  but that’s another matter!

Whilst the Conservatives have a pro-business agenda, the outcome of the EU referendum and the finely balanced constitutional negotiations with the SNP create an uncertain picture of how the legislative landscape will evolve on both sides of the border over these next five years.

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