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Employment Law & Worker Rights - The Conservative Party’s Manifesto

Second out of the starting gates with their election manifesto was the conservative party on Tuesday 11th June (the “Manifesto”).  With some fanfare at Silverstone (but no racing cars) Rishi Sunak finally delivered his party’s Manifesto.

A brief overview of the conservative party manifesto & employment 

For employment lawyers, a search for “employment” and “worker” produced thin soup in the 80 pages of content.  Even the previously heralded reintroduction of employment tribunal fees and the promise to cap non-compete restrictions in employment contracts to 3 months were conspicuously absent. One suspects that having already trumpeted these plans they were not novel enough to be included in the Manifesto.

What there was plenty of, however, were promises of tax cuts (and accompanying cuts to welfare and public services) including a 2% cut to national insurance.

Here’s a summary of some of the issues which will affect employers and workers if the Conservatives are re-elected on 4 July:

Conservative Tax Policies

There was a clear focus in the Manifesto on cutting taxes for working people.  The Conservatives propose to cut employee National Insurance to 6% by April 2027, abolish the main rate of National Insurance for the self-employed and commit to not raising income tax or VAT. They also pledge to maintain the National Living Wage in each year of the next Parliament at two-thirds of median earnings. This raises many questions, not least of all where the money to pay for these tax cuts will come from but also around the implications of the abolition of NI contributions for the self-employed on their state pension entitlements. Mel Stride indicated yesterday at the launch that the self-employed might still be entitled to a state pension with a zero % contribution. Employed voters may well query the equity in that proposal.

Fit Notes Proposal

The much trailed discussion of reform of disability benefits so they are “better targeted” featured strongly in the Manifesto.  Accompanying this was Rishi Sunak’s desire to deal with what he calls a “sick note culture”. The new approach would shift the responsibility for issuing fit notes from GPs to specialist work and health professionals. This change aims to ensure that assessments are conducted by individuals with specific expertise in occupational health and the interplay between health conditions and work capabilities. The Manifesto mentions the testing of integration of this new fit note process with the 'WorkWell' service, which is envisaged to provide personalised support to individuals.

Change to the definition of "Sex"

The Conservative Party proposes to acknowledge biological sex as a reality, and while affirming provisions for those with a differing gender identity, they emphasise the importance of women's safety and privacy.  They suggest that the Equality Act (introduced under Labour) is outdated with regard to sex and gender definitions. The party proposes new legislation to specify 'sex' in the Act as biological sex, ensuring the provision of single-sex services. Additionally, they plan to legislate for legal consistency across the UK, so individuals have only one legally recognised sex.  There has already been a steady stream of cases brought by those with so-called “gender critical” views and it would be unlikely that any change to the definition will have any immediate effect in the employment law sphere.

What wasn’t in it ..

Employment Tribunal Fees

The Manifesto doesn’t discuss at all the re-introduction of employment tribunal fees.  Earlier in the year, the Ministry of Justice concluded a consultation on the topic with the proposal of a “modest” £55 issue fee for all employment tribunal claims, except claims for payment from the National Insurance Fund (for example for redundancy payments from insolvent employers), and an appeal fee of £55 for each judgment or decision being appealed.

Legally enforced NDA agreements & criminality 

Nor was there mention of the proposal made in March to introduce legislation “as soon as parliamentary time allows” to clarify that non-disclosure agreements cannot be legally enforced if they prevent victims from reporting a crime and indeed to legislate more widely more on their use more generally. Whilst the caveat on the ability to report a crime is implicit already (and most confidentiality clauses carve out this and other exceptions) it is interesting that the Conservatives believe further reform is required.

Non-compete clauses

Curiously, also excepted from the Manifesto was the intention to introduce a statutory cap of three months on non-compete clauses in employment and worker contracts which was announced in May 2023. The position on non-competes is interesting as the Conservatives are unlikely to want to see the UK fall behind the US on liberal economic law and policy. The US Federal Trade Commission confirmed a wide ban on the use of non-competes in April this year, affecting an estimated 30 million workers in the US.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the Conservatives haven’t placed too much emphasis on employment law policy in their Manifesto. This doesn’t seem to be a major battleground in this election and tax, spending and immigration were always likely to eclipse worker rights.  

Our thinking

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