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Theresa May’s agenda for change: Let’s recap

In her keynote speech at the Conservative party conference Theresa May announced that she would use “… the power of government for the good of the people.” We take a look at some of the key announcements and headlines during and since conference week.

The employment law review

Ahead of the party conference Theresa May announced a review of workers’ rights and modern employment in a move to pave the way for the self-employed, temporary and non-traditional employees to be protected by new laws. She stated:

“We are building a new centre ground in British politics; improving the security and rights of ordinary working people is a key part of building a country and an economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. Flexibility and innovation are a vital part of what makes our economy strong, but it is essential that these virtues are combined with the right support and protections for workers.”

The background to this announcement is the continued growth of the “gig” economy and the increasing number of workers who do not have stable patterns of working. Estimates from the Office for National Statistics have shown a sharp increase in the number of zero hours workers to 903,000 in April-June 2016, representing 2.9% of all people in employment.

Changing employment practices have also been under increasing scrutiny with a number of high profile companies under the spotlight in relation to exploitation of workers, failure to pay the national minimum wage and poor working conditions. Well-publicised claims by workers in a number of courier companies, challenging their self-employed status and claiming they are entitled to basic workers’ rights, are also an illustration of growing tension.

Whilst back in 2015 the government attempted to provide specific protection for zero hours workers with the introduction of the exclusivity ban, it has now recognized that the groundswell of non-traditional workers and the likelihood that this trend will only increase, means that employment protection rights need addressing.

Matthew Taylor a former adviser to Tony Blair has been appointed to conduct the employment review and has said:

“New forms of employment have many advantages for workers and consumers but there are challenges and risks. We need to approach this issue with an open mind recognising that within our flexible system of employment the same type of contract can have a diverse range of impacts on the people who use them.”

The review will address six key themes:

• Security, pay and rights

• Progression and training

• Finding the appropriate balance of rights and responsibilities for new business models

• Representation

• Opportunities for under-represented groups

• New business models

No date has been published for when the review is expected to be completed.

Corporate governance

The review of workers’ rights also builds on the announcement made immediately prior to Theresa May’s appointment as Prime Minister that she wanted to reform corporate governance, put workers on company boards and make shareholders’ vote on executive pay binding rather than advisory, in order to curb excessive executive pay.

Whilst at the time there was a question mark whether these plans would become a reality we are now one step closer with the launch of the corporate governance inquiry by the Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS) Committee. The inquiry focuses on executive pay, directors’ duties, and the composition of boardrooms, including worker representation and gender balance in executive positions.

Brexit

Brexit was clearly a key area of the conference with Theresa May announcing that Article 50 will be triggered before the end of March 2017. The next Queen’s Speech will include a Great Repeal Bill, to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 which is the legislation that gives direct effect to all EU law in Britain.

The vast majority of employment law stems from the EU and so there is unlikely to be a dramatic change, certainly in the short term. Much EU derived employment law is now enshrined in the UK and so wiping the slate clean and starting again would seem like an unlikely event.

The House of Commons has also produced a briefing paper which discusses the government’s position in relation to Brexit and employment law; whilst there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the terms of our exit from Europe and its likely impact, Theresa May has committed to protecting workers’ rights, she said:

“Any changes in the law will have to be subject to full scrutiny and proper Parliamentary debate. And let me be absolutely clear: existing workers’ legal rights will continue to be guaranteed in law – and they will be guaranteed as long as I am Prime Minister. “

However, the government is under increasing pressure to give further assurances and set out a clear exit plan. Last week the Shadow Foreign Secretary and and Shadow Secretary for Exiting the European Union wrote to David Davis the Brexit minister, raising 170 questions concerning Brexit some of which involved employment law; areas of concern included TUPE, working time and agency and part-time workers.

The questions can be seen here

Immigration

One of the most controversial areas post referendum relates to the status of European nationals currently living and working in the UK and their position post Brexit. Speaking at the conference David Davis stated:

“When it comes to the negotiations, we will protect the rights of EU citizens here, so long as Britons in Europe are treated the same way – something I am absolutely sure we will be able to agree.”

Currently EU nationals who have lived continuously and lawfully in the UK for at least five years automatically have a permanent right to reside and EU nationals who have lived continuously and lawfully in the UK for at least six years are eligible to apply for British citizenship.

Certain sectors such as retail and manufacturing, which employ high levels of foreign workers, are already taking a proactive approach to securing the residency of their workforce in the UK post Brexit, by supporting their workers in applying for leave to remain and citizenship, providing guidance and assisting with the application process and financial support.

Last week also saw the launch of the ‘Write to Remain’ campaign which aims to pressurise the government into guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals who live in the UK. The Write to Remain movement has cross-party support and has launched a campaign website 

Comment

The Prime Minister’s commitment to protecting workers and potentially extending rights to encompass individuals working in the new gig economy, is a step away from the traditional Tory stance. Certainly the appointment of Matthew Taylor to conduct the employment review supports this change in direction. Although the detailed results of the planned review and corporate governance inquiry may not be seen for some time, we are likely to see more information emerging and gathering momentum over the coming months, starting with the autumn statement on 23 November.

 

If you have any questions in relation to topics raised in this blog please Get in Touch

Blog posted 24 October 2016

 

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Legal news, views, trends and tools for HR Professionals. Stay ahead. Go further