The Liberal Democrats Party Manifesto: What it means for business
Our review of the election manifesto continues with a look at the Lib Dems. We’ve reviewed their 158 page manifesto (although thankfully there were lots of pictures so it wasn’t as tough as it first looked!) and distilled it into bite-sized chunks. The Lib Dems’ vision generally is to create a stronger economy and society that is more equal. They want to see “more jobs in our economy, with steadily higher wages and better employment rights”. So what specific pledges are the Lib Dems making which will affect employers?
Zero Hour contracts
They will stamp out abuse of zero hours contracts and create a right for workers to request a fixed term contract. They will consult on introducing a right to make regular patterns of work into a contract based on those regular patterns after a period of time. So not an outright ban, but another proposed clamp down on abuse. Like many of the parties, what they haven’t explained is what they mean by “regular patterns” and how this would work in practice.
Whilst other parties have specified their targets for increasing the national minimum wage (NMW) the Lib Dems have simply said that they will ask the Low Pay Commission to consider ways of increasing the NMW, without damaging employment opportunities. So nothing concrete for employers to work with there. They have said they intend to lead by example though and will establish an independent review to consult on setting a “fair” Living Wage across all sectors. The Lib Dems will pay this Living Wage in all central government departments and executive agencies from April 2016 onwards and encourage other public sector employers to do the same. Again, as yet, what this Living Wage may be remains to be seen.
Work and families
The Lib Dems have offered some tangible policies to promote flexibility at work and help with childcare costs. They will offer an additional month of paternity leave to fathers (an increase from the current two weeks); and make paternity and shared parental leave “day one” rights (i.e. the employee does not need to have worked for you for a set number of weeks to become eligible). Similar to the promises made by other parties, they are proposing to extend the free childcare provision, ultimately to offer 20 hours of free childcare a week for all working parents of children aged between nine months to two years, and a further 20 hours a week for all parents of children aged between two and four. However, their actual starting point is a lower commitment of 15 hours per week for parents of 2 year olds.
Employment tribunal reform
The Lib Dems will review employment tribunal fees so that they are not a barrier to the enforcement of employment rights. What they haven’t done is say how they will do this, or made clear whether they think the current employment tribunal fees are a barrier to justice. They’ve also said they will ensure employers cannot avoid giving their staff rights by wrongly classifying them as workers or self employed. Again, no detail on what this actually means or how this will be achieved.
The Lib Dems wish to double the number of businesses which hire apprentices. They will also help young people to obtain work placements, and placements will be tailored for those with disabilities or mental health problems.
The Lib Dems also wish to promote equality in the workplace by requiring companies with more than 250 employees to publish details of the average pay of their male and female workers. They will also encourage a move towards women making up 30% of board members and having at least one of their board members as a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic person. They have said that they also wish to encourage employers to shortlist any qualified disabled candidate in neither case have they provided any detail as to what form this encouragement would take. Their proposals do not go quite as far as the Green Party which wants to move towards “name blank” recruitment to help prevent discrimination, and a number would apply to the public sector only.
Other main themes in the manifesto include the promise to introduce five green laws which will “protect nature and wildlife in Britain and across the world, clean up our air and help fight climate change”. Like the Green Party they’re keen to protect the bees and have promised to review cages for farmed animals. They’re also promising to plant at least one tree for every child that’s born. So that’s all good.
And that concludes our round up of the main parties’ manifestos. Once again it’s clear that employment issues are seen by all the parties as a key part of the political debate and whatever the outcome of the election, it’s likely to have a significant impact on employers’ obligations. All that is left now is to wait and see what 7th May holds!