Conservatives pledge expansion of workers’ rights but can they be enforced?

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The Conservatives’ 11-point plan on workers’ rights has become a 12-point one. Along with a string of new announcements made today, the party has just added that if it wins the election, it will also require firms to publish data on racial pay gaps.

There is already a requirement for larger firms (with more than 250 workers) to publish gender pay gap information by April 2018. More details here.

However, the Conservatives announced that this will now be extended to cover ethnicity. (A gap that can run as wide as 26% for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, according to the Fawcett Society).

The 11-point plan has been causing a stir on social media as well as in the national press. While many welcome the proposed worker’s rights, experts are also questioning how enforceable they are considering Employment Tribunal fees still exist.

For example, David Allen Green, Law and policy commentator at the FT says there is no point embedded workers’ rights if they cannot be enforced:

Emma Wilkinson, senior employment expert at Citizen’s Advice says:

UNISON says:


Here’s a selection of comments from employment solicitors and HR experts about the new proposals. Please feel free to add yours to the comments below.

Leon Deakin, Partner in the Employment team at Coffin Mew Solicitors says:

“The Conservative manifesto announcement contains some attractive headlines for workers but an examination of the detail leaves many questions to be answered.

“For example, the statutory right to take up to a year off to care for a disabled dependant before being able to return to a guaranteed role does, in theory, extend existing rights and create some flexibility for the vast number of workers who have caring responsibilities. However, the time taken will be unpaid and therefore, I suspect the take up will not be significant and certainly not likely to last for extended periods of time as the norm.

“The proposed statutory right to up to 2 weeks’ paid leave upon child bereavement is also difficult to argue with in terms of sentiment and may protect those with unsympathetic or inflexible bosses. However, my experience of the approach by employers in the most extreme circumstances such as these already tends towards generosity and understanding.

“Similarly, announcing workers will not lose any protections flowing from EU law is not necessarily the commitment it appears to be. Put simply, the UK has, in many cases, given workers greater rights than it is obliged to so the chances of ever seeking to remove those due to Brexit was slim. Indeed, I suspect it is some of the decisions of the ECJ which are more likely to be the targets of revision rather than the ‘laws’ and the commitment today is vague at best on whether the guarantee includes these or not.

“For these reasons, suggestions that this is the greatest expansion of workers’ rights by a Conservative Government ring slightly hollow.”

Tim Goodwin, associate at Winckworth Sherwood, says:

“It was David Cameron who scaled back employment rights radically, most notably making it harder to bring unfair dismissal claims and introducing huge Tribunal fees – in most cases up to £1,200 – which has seen claims fall by up to 70%.  Unless action is taken to make bringing a claim more realistic, I can’t see that some of these new rights, such as unpaid leave to care for a relative, will add much because the reality is that, unless workers can enforce their rights, they will not be observed.
“It’s heartening to see that workers’ rights we have from EU law will be preserved post-Brexit. Many of the leading Brexit voices – including some that are in the cabinet now – had argued for Brexit on the basis of scrapping EU employment regulations.  The key will be whether, once we see how Brexit unfolds, this promise holds up in the long term.”

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD says:

“This broad package of measures acknowledges the important debate that we need to have about the future of our workplaces in this election. It’s welcome to see a specific focus on this, particularly as it highlights many of the issues that the CIPD identified in our own ‘Manifesto for Work’, released last week.

“However, the success of any of these measures will only be seen if the next government commits to working in partnership with business to see them through and ensure they work in practice.

“We welcome the commitment to the outcomes of the Taylor Review. As we move beyond traditional employment frameworks it’s very important that people really understand what their employment rights are.

“The right to request leave for training purposes is a welcome step, although more detail and consultation on how this will be applied is needed. The biggest obstacle facing people in developing new skills is falling employer investment in skills and workplace training, and with the growth of self-employment and contract work, and increased job mobility, how people will be supported for training and lifelong learning is a key question.

“While we welcome the steps to improve employee voice in business, it is disappointing that the announcement is not bolder. Non-executive directors representing employees is unlikely to give workers enough meaningful voice in the workplace. We call on the next government to commit to a more robust package of reforms, rather than a potentially tokenistic measure which may not deliver the changes we need to see.”

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