What this Conservative Government may bring

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Here we have focused on what the next five years of a Conservative government may bring for employers and employees alike.  We will of course keep a watchful eye on these matters and let you know if/when there are any changes.

Exclusivity Clauses

The provision within the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 rendering exclusivity clauses in zero hour contracts unenforceable came into force on 26 May 2015.  If you operate these contracts you should be aware of this change and amend them, if necessary, going forward.

Battles with the Unions?

The Conservative Party had indicated (at different times prior to the election) the desire to address a number of issues which are union related.  The recently appointed business secretary, Sajid Javid, has since confirmed plans to make “significant changes” to strike laws.
For example:

  • A repeal of Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2013 which currently prevents an employment business from supplying agency workers to cover duties normally performed by workers who have taken official industrial action;
  • A ballot will only be able to authorise industrial action if at least 50% of the union membership has turned out to vote;
  • Any strike ballot in respect of ‘core’ public service would need to have the support of 40% of the unions eligible membership (not a simple majority of those voting as it currently is);
  • A strike would need to take place within three months of the ballot;
  • Criminalising some forms of extreme picketing; and
  • Giving a legal footing to the current Code of Practice on Picketing.

Volunteering

The Conservative Party has a policy of wanting to introduce three paid volunteering days for all employees in the public sector.  This would also extend to those for private sector employers with over 250 employees.  Such a change would be achieved through an amendment of the Working Time Regulations.  It is estimated that this would entitle in the region of 15 million employees to paid leave to undertake a voluntary role, if and when implemented.

Apprenticeships

The Conservative Party has pledged to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and to give apprentices access to educational loans.

Europe

Much has been written about a review of our relationship with the European Union which may impact upon some aspects of employment and social policy.  Quite what this means exactly is unclear – we may have to wait until after the promised referendum!  It is hard to imagine the complexity of disentangling EU law from our jurisdiction.

Human Rights

The Conservative Party wishes to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 (replacing it with a Bill of Rights) and withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights of Strasburg.  The stated intention behind this is to make the UK courts the ultimate arbiter on human rights issues in the UK but this issue was not specifically addressed in the recent Queen’s Speech so what this means in practice remains to be seen.

Tax and Pay

We can expect a few changes here.  For example we may see an above inflation increase to the threshold for the higher rate of income tax (taking it to £50,000 instead of £42,385) and an increase to £12,500 by 2020 in respect of the tax free personal allowance.

The NMW will also increase.  Accepting the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission the NMW is on course to increase to over £8 per hour by 2020.

The Government will also encourage the payment of the living wage where employers can afford it.

Tribunal Fees

There is widespread recognition amongst lawyers that the introduction of tribunal fees has dramatically reduced the number of employment claims. However, if the aim (or part of it) was to remove vexatious/unreasonable claims this does not appear to be reflected in the statistics which indicate that the success rates following full hearings remain almost the same.

Instead, it might indicate that only those that can afford the fees bring claims.  There is a feeling that the current fee regime is a barrier to access to justice and is not justifiable.

The Government support the retention of fees, subject to Unison’s judicial review on fees which is due to be heard in mid-June.  On 11 June 2015, the government also announced the start of the Employment Tribunal Fees Post Implementation Review.  The stated purpose of the review is to consider how effective the introduction of fees (and the current fee remission scheme) has been in meeting the original financial and behavioural objectives, while maintaining access to justice.  The review is expected to conclude later in 2015 followed by a consultation on any proposed recommendations to reform the system.

Watch this space (and our LinkedIn group) for more news.

In other news…

Academies, the EFA and Settlement Agreements – a reminder!

Academies offering a settlement agreement and severance payment to an employee, will be aware that they need to be able to demonstrate that any payment to be made is “good value” under the Academies Financial Handbook.  Approval is needed from the Education Funding Agency (EFA) for any non contractual payment over £50,000, but an assessment of whether a payment is “good value” must still be made for any payment under £50,000. The EFA also have the power to look into historic settlement agreements and also to claw back payment where this is not considered to be justified. They can even impose sanctions in relation to future settlement agreements.  In a worst case scenario the EFA could issue a financial notice to improve, which withdraws academy freedoms.

Ofsted proposals for change

Please view the following link for Changes to education inspection from September 2015.

If you have any questions on the above please contact Jill Donabie on 0191 211 7933 or email [email protected]