Conservative employment rights policy: an update
While there is still no clear Tory employment rights policy, ongoing media reports are confirming that the Conservatives are no friends of hard working people. Alan Duncan sets the general tone, warning of small businesses drowning in seas of red tape and unnecessary regulation. However, this non-specific ranting provides no clarity about which specific regulations are preventing small businesses from thriving, and which rights the Conservatives are proposing that workers surrender. Is it maternity leave, time off for ante-natal appointments or access to health and safety equipment that the Tories believe we should axe?
A more specific approach is outlined in Conservative amendments to the Employment Bill, which include proposals that would make unsuccessful employment tribunal claimants liable for employers’ costs, and introduce the potential of claimants whose cases are found to be ‘vexatious’ being charged a penalty fee. As I have previously pointed out, the impacts of such changes would deny vulnerable workers access to justice.
Contradiction is still a defining characteristic of the Conservative approach. As Adam has highlighted, opposition to the joint CBI/TUC position on equal treatment of agency workers now appears to be implicit policy. However, if an equal treatment Directive becomes European law an ongoing commitment to challenge this legislation will require a solution to the problem of how to withdraw from the Social Chapter – which is not stated as a Conservative position.
The flexible working proposals supported by Theresa May are still in place – although Chris Grayling appears to have been laying the ground for a retreat, based on concerns that the argument ‘will be harder to make’ in difficult economic circumstances. Interestingly, CIPD disagree with his proposition, pointing out the strong business benefits that flexible working options can bring.
Finally, the minimum wage, the epitomy of fair treatment at work, is also now in the firing line. Media reports suggest that the tories are giving serious consideration to limiting wage rises to ensure they are below inflation, to help businesses ‘remain competitive’. The tone of recent parliamentary questions also implies a committment to reducing real terms wages for the worst off. Although the much lauded Centre for Social Justice, home of the Conservative Social Justice Policy Group, proposes supplementing the earnings of workers with low-incomes, it seems unlikely that their views on treatment at work will be having any impact on the new tories – who are increasingly not even paying lipservice to fair employment.