With the Conservatives appearing to be the general election winners, what’s in store for employers?

Written on 8 May 2015

After a long night, the Conservatives have come out on top in the 2015 General Election and results are suggesting with no need for a coalition.

Jenny Wotherspoon, Associate Director comments:

The most significant impact of a Conservative victory for employers will be the promise of a European referendum by 2017. With many of our employment laws emanating from Europe, any exit is likely to see our employment laws take on a new shape and form.

Employers with workers in Scotland will now need to keep a careful watch on the devolution process. The SNP have previously called for employment laws to be devolved to Scotland – and on the back of their significant result, it’s not impossible that we could eventually see different rules in Scotland on the minimum wage and access to Employment Tribunals etc.

Where we will see some real debate is the Conservatives’ promise to reform UK strike laws.  With a majority, albeit slim, the Conservatives will have the potential to make real change in this area. But with this topic likely to generate heated discussions in the Houses of Parliament it will be interesting to see what final form the proposed reforms take

So what can employers now expect?

European Referendum and a British Bill of Rights

The most significant outcome is the Conservative support for a referendum on EU membership by 2017 and the Conservatives commitment for a British Bill of Rights, both opposed by Labour. Many employment laws emanate from Europe and whilst an “out” vote would not see our existing laws disappear, it would inevitably impact on the shape and substance of employment law going forward.
In introducing a British Bill of Rights, the Conservatives will look to make our Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter on human rights issues.

More devolution to Scotland

Whilst another Scottish referendum is not off the cards given the SNP’s significant gains in Scotland, David Cameron has already committed to speed up the devolution process to Scotland. And given the SNP indicated back in February that they would wish to see all employment laws devolved to Scotland (see here), employers with workforces across the border will need to keep a careful watch on developments in this respect. Indeed, on the widely publicised issue of Employment Tribunal fees, whilst both the Conservatives and SNP have indicated that they would “review” the current fee structure for access to Employment Tribunals (although neither has made any specific pledges in their manifestos in this regard), the devolution process means that it is not impossible that we may end up with two different structures depending on where a claim is brought.

Reform of Strike laws

The Conservatives have committed to reform strike laws, including requiring a 50% majority for strike action, repealing the restriction on using agency workers to cover strikes and introducing a time limit on the mandate of each ballot. These reforms look set for some heated exchanges in the Houses of Parliament.

Low income workers

The Conservatives have pledged to look to increase the National Minimum Wage to over £8 an hour by 2020 and support the Living Wage. They are also committed to banning exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts (and finding ways of ensuring that ban is not abused). However, unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives stopped short in the general election campaign of offering any further measures seeking to protect those on zero hours contracts so it will be interesting to see if they now consider the ban on exclusivity is sufficient.

Family friendly

The Conservatives have not made any promises of new “leave” rights for families or carers. With the impact of the new shared parental leave rights still unclear, this is not surprising. However, the Conservatives have committed to increase free childcare for working parents to 30 hours per week for 3 to 4 year olds.
In addition, as part of the “big society”, the Conservatives are looking to require public sector employers and companies with 250 or more employees to allow individuals three paid days off a year to undertake voluntary work. With many large organisations already offering such schemes, this is unlikely to have a significant impact.

A link to the Conservative manifesto is here.