Workplace reforms become a key element in the election debate

The workplace has become one of the key battlegrounds in the UK general election debate, as the main political parties seek to court mainstream opinion and with the imminent publication of the Taylor Review into the gig economy. The Labour Party will today announce in its manifesto a commitment to provide 30 hours of free childcare for all two to four-year-olds, covering 1.3 million children. Yesterday, the Conservatives announced that employees will be offered the right to take up to a year off work to care for family members with illness or disability as well as commitments to introducing statutory child bereavement leave and the right to request time off work for training. There are also expected to be other announcements into the workings of the gig economy with new rules to extend maternity and sickness pay to workers who are currently classed as self-employed.

The Conservatives have also suggested that all listed companies will be required to appoint a non-executive director to act as an employee representative at board level. Labour are also expected to make announcements on the issue of worker representation.

The announcements have been broadly welcomed by the CIPD. Commenting on the Conservative Party’s policy announcement on workers’ rights and other workplace reforms, Peter Cheese, Chief Executive said: “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, and we’ve been engaged with Matthew Taylor on the issue of good work and employee protections in the gig economy. Giving clarity to the employment status and rights of gig economy workers is much needed, but we need to ensure we find the right balance between flexibility and security for workers and for employers as the world of work evolves. As we move beyond traditional employment frameworks it’s very important that people really understand what their employment rights are. We’re calling for the next government commit to launch a  ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign to ensure that employees have better information in an increasingly fragmented world of work and we hope to see all parties supporting this.”

The Conservative Party has taken a lead in the debate in a move which runs somewhat against their traditional stance of focussing on the needs of businesses first. Their plans include:

  • A new statutory right to leave for people whose family members require full-time care. The proposal would give workers the right to take between 13 and 52 weeks off while retaining their employment rights. The leave would not be paid but employees would be guaranteed to return to their job at their existing salary once the period was over.
  • A new law to prevent employers discriminating against workers suffering from mental ill health. The Tories will amend the Equalities Act to protect people suffering from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders from being unfairly dismissed.
  • Offering employees who want to retrain or to improve their skills the formal rights to request time off from their employer.
  • The introduction of a two-week paid child bereavement leave.
  • Guaranteed planned increases in the national minimum wage until 2022.
  • A commitment to implement the recommendations of the Taylor review into the gig economy. Based on some pre-publication announcements, this is expected include stricter rules on what constitutes genuine self-employment and the extension of statutory maternity and sick pay to the newly-defined number of self-employed workers.

“The right to request leave for training purposes is a welcome step,” said Peter Cheese, “although more detail and consultation on how this will be applied is needed, especially as we have seen with flexible working that the right to request itself is not a silver bullet. 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. This is why the CIPD has called for the piloting of revised individual learning accounts to encourage and help people to invest in their own lifelong learning. Equally, we have proposed a rethink of the apprenticeship levy to create a more flexible training levy which would benefit a greater number of employers and individuals’ needs.

“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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