By Karen Corry, Senior HR Consultant

The current election highlights significant potential shifts in employment law as outlined in the manifestos of the Labour and Conservative parties. These proposals could profoundly impact HR practices and employment legislation, potentially affecting Northern Ireland, where Great Britain’s practices often influence legislative decisions.

Labour Party Proposals

If Labour wins, their proposed reforms could dramatically reshape employment law. Key proposals include:

  • Allowing employees to claim unfair dismissal from day one, eliminating the current two-year service requirement.
  • Enhancing sick pay and parental leave benefits.
  • Strengthening protections for pregnant women, making it generally unlawful to dismiss them during pregnancy or within six months of returning to work.
  • Strengthening rights under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations (TUPE).

Labour also plans to:

  • Abolish age-based tiers for the national minimum wage, ensuring all adult workers receive the highest applicable rate.
  • Implement an automatic default entitlement to flexible working from the first day of employment.
  • Extend the time limit for bringing tribunal claims from three months to six months, potentially increasing litigation volumes.

Additionally, Labour proposes to:

  • Eliminate the distinction between employee and worker statuses, affecting employers’ National Insurance and tax obligations while expanding comprehensive employment rights.
  • Introduce a new Race Equality Act to address pay disparities and equality issues.
  • Mandate ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting for larger employers and ban zero-hour contracts.

Labour’s manifesto also includes:

  • Provisions for collective grievances to be lodged with ACAS.
  • Relaxing trade union laws.
  • Introducing a statutory right to disconnect from work to promote better work-life balance.
  • Mandating compulsory reporting on menopause action plans.

These proposals reflect Labour’s commitment to reshaping employment law in the UK, potentially setting a new precedent that could influence legislative developments in Northern Ireland over time. HR professionals and employers need to consider and adapt proactively to these potential legal changes and workplace dynamics.

Conservative Party Proposals

The Conservative Party’s manifesto outlines several pledges that could significantly impact HR and employment legislation if they are re-elected. Key proposals include:

  • A gradual reduction of national insurance rates by 2p by April 2027, with complete abolition for self-employed individuals.
  • Tying the National Living Wage to two-thirds of median earnings, potentially raising it to £13 per hour during their tenure.

In terms of employment law, the Conservatives plan to:

  • Uphold current policies while making adjustments, such as tightening access to fit notes for conditions like anxiety and depression and potentially reintroducing tribunal fees.
  • Clarify the definition of biological sex in the Equality Act.
  • Impose restrictions on non-compete clauses in employment contracts.

A notable proposal is the introduction of national service for school leavers, offering a choice between military service over 12 months or community service equivalent to one weekend per month for a year. This initiative aims to instil valuable life skills and strengthen national unity. Additionally, the Conservative Party aims to create 100,000 high-quality apprenticeships by restructuring university degree offerings and introducing the Advanced British Standard, a new qualification bridging A levels and T levels.

The manifesto also addresses economic inactivity by:

  • Providing free childcare for working parents of children aged nine months or older by September 2025 to facilitate earlier return to work.
  • Shifting responsibility for sick notes from GPs to work and health professionals to reduce unfit-for-work certifications.
  • Reforming the benefits system, including stricter sanctions for benefit recipients refusing suitable job offers after 12 months and tailored support for individuals with moderate mental health issues or mobility challenges to enhance employability.

These initiatives underscore the Conservative Party’s strategy to enhance workforce productivity and economic participation while potentially reshaping employment practices and regulations. HR professionals should prepare for potential adjustments in compliance requirements, workforce training strategies, and policies related to employee benefits and healthcare management if these proposals are implemented.

Considerations for Future Employment Law

Notably absent from the major political parties’ manifestos is comprehensive legislation addressing the future of work concerning artificial intelligence (AI). Despite Labour’s acknowledgment of the need to collaborate with stakeholders on AI’s impact on jobs, skills, and workplace dynamics, no concrete proposals are outlined. This omission highlights a significant gap in addressing the regulatory frameworks needed to manage AI’s integration into the workforce effectively.

Additionally, the lack of explicit commitments regarding legislation on surveillance and facial recognition leaves questions about the timeline for such laws. These technologies raise critical ethical and legal questions about privacy, consent, and data protection in workplaces and broader societal contexts. The manifestos’ lack of clarity suggests that while reforms may be on the horizon with a new government, they are unlikely to be as expansive as anticipated by those advocating for stronger regulatory frameworks.

In light of these uncertainties, businesses and policymakers must navigate the evolving landscape of AI and surveillance technologies with existing legal frameworks. Proactive engagement from stakeholders is essential to ensure that any future legislation balances fostering innovation and safeguarding individual rights and freedoms. As technological advancements continue to reshape the workplace, clear, forward-thinking policies are urgently needed to mitigate risks and responsibly harness the benefits of these transformative technologies.

To discuss any aspect, please get in touch with Karen Corry E: T: 028 9032 3466.