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Expert opinion: Worker and employee rights come under election spotlight

Written by Jeremy Nixon on .

Jeremy NixonJeremy NixonWhen she took office as Prime Minister in July 2016, Theresa May said she wanted an economy that worked for all and not just the privileged few.

The Brexit White Paper, published in February 2017, made clear the Government’s intentions to protect and enhance workers’ rights.

As we approach the middle of the election campaign, the Labour Party has unveiled its pitch to voters as regards workers’ rights.

Like the Conservatives, Labour has pledged to incorporate all EU employment protection legislation into UK domestic law.

Labour is also promising that self-employed workers will be entitled to full employment rights and there will be a presumption in favour of employment status with the burden of proof on employers to show that a colleague is not an employee.

Employment tribunal fees, zero-hours contracts and unpaid internships will all be scrapped under Labour’s proposals.

If the opinion polls are to be believed, the Conservatives under Mrs May are heading for a parliamentary majority of historic proportions. For this reason, some employers may be more inclined to pay more attention to proposals coming out of Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

The Tories are offering a package of measures which are being described as the “greatest extension of rights and protections for employees by any Conservative government”. This includes:

  • A statutory right to take between 13 and 52 weeks unpaid leave to care for family members
  • The strengthening of laws to protect those suffering from depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder
  • Employee representation on the boards of listed companies
  • Extending sickness and maternity pay to the self employed in the so called “gig economy”
  • The introduction of two weeks’ paid child bereavement leave.

Whilst acknowledging that the proposed measures address legitimate concerns, businesses and organisations have also warned against costly and bureaucratic new regulations.

It should, however, be remembered that not all of the proposals represent a significant change. Many people suffering with mental illnesses are already covered by the provisions of the Equality Act and all eligible employees are able to request flexible working in order to undertake carer responsibilities.

Not to be out done, the Liberal Democrats have proposed an extension of paid parental leave for fathers from two weeks to a month (dubbed “Daddy month”), with further announcements likely as the election campaign enters its final few weeks.

Jeremy Nixon is a partner and employment law expert at Thrings. www.thrings.com