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Liberal Democrats' manifesto - An analysis of the new, old and 'borrowed' employment law pledges

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The snap election, called by Theresa May so soon after recent other elections and referendums, was not a popular decision amongst voters and the other political parties. For the Liberal Democrats however, it represented an opportunity to quickly regroup after a disastrous 2015 election. Whilst Tim Farron has been slow to confirm his opinions on some topics, we analyse the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto on employment law changes to see if the party has a clear vision.

1. Ban Zero Hours Contracts -  Labour 2015, 2017

In 2015, the Lib Dems wanted to create, “a formal right to request a fixed contract and have a consultation on the introduction of a right to make regular patterns of work contractual after a “period of time””. Now, they want to ban zero-hours contracts completely, perhaps inspired by that same pledge made by Labour in 2015 (and repeated in 2017).

2. Encourage the creation and widespread adoption of a ‘good employer’ kitemark - New

On the surface, this is quite an interesting concept; creating a ‘quality mark’ amongst employers covering areas such as paying a living wage, avoiding unpaid internships and using name-blind recruitment to make it easier for customers and investors to exercise choice and influence. In reality, a number of these quality marks exist already; for example, the Living Wage Foundation already offers a ‘Living Wage Employer Mark’. In addition, thanks to social media, it is quite easy for employers, consumers and the wider public to make an initial assessment of an employer.

3. Larger employers to publish the number of people paid less than the Living Wage and the ratio between top and median pay – Basically the same as 2015

This is the same as the 2015 manifesto, although less specific. In 2015, the Liberal Democrats wanted, “companies with more than 250 employees to publish details of the different pay levels of men and women. By 2020, they will require those companies to also publish the number of people paid less than the Living Wage and the ratio between top and median pay.”.

4. Scrapping employment tribunal fees – Stronger stance than 2015, same as Labour in 2015 and 2017

In addition to zero hour contracts, one area where the Liberal Democrats have strengthened their resolve is in relation to employment tribunal fees. Previously, in 2015, they wanted to,  “Review employment tribunal fees to ensure they are not a barrier”. Now, they want them to be banned outright to ensure access to justice for all. This is the same stance Labour took in 2015 and again in 2017.

5. Employee decision-making within listed companies - New

This comes in two parts:

  • An aim to encourage employers to promote employee ownership by giving staff in listed companies with over 250 employees a right to request shares, to be held in trust for the benefit of employees; and
  • Strengthen worker participation in decision-making, including staff representation on remuneration committees, and the right for employees of a listed company to be represented on the board, changing company law to permit a German-style two-tier board structure to include employees.

The focus here appears to be on worker-cooperative business, such as the John Lewis group, with a view to tackling some voter concerns over executive pay rates.

6. Establish an independent review to consult on how to set a genuine Living Wage across all sectors – Similar to 2015

The Living Wage Foundation, an independent organisation, currently reviews and provides guidance as to the ‘real’ living wage that people need in order to be able to reasonably survive. The Lib Dem’s manifesto pledge suggests that it intends to conduct its own review. They have been consistent with their views on the Living Wage, pledging in the 2015 manifesto to, “Pay the Living Wage in all central government departments and their agencies from April 2016”.

7. Modernise employment rights to make them fit for the age of the ‘gig’ economy – New

No specifics have been given on this and it strikes this writer as an attempt to make some mention of this hot topic (following the recent Uber case decision). It is therefore very difficult to make an assessment as to what this actually means.

Overall, the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto does not offer many new specific employment-law ideas; many of its pledges are lacking in specific detail, although it has maintained a consistent stance on most issues since the 2015 manifesto. Like the 2015 manifesto, these current pledges are slightly vague in some of its promises so, if history is to repeat itself, this upcoming election may not be the one to restore the party to its 57 MPs in 2015.