Two main parties battle it out in a bid to become more worker-friendly
In the aftermath of the awful Manchester bombing, it’s hard to refocus on the General Election campaign. It doesn’t help that the level of debate doesn’t get much above slogans of strong and stable or weak and wobbly. And with only a few days to go, we can expect more slogans coming at us from all sides.
For once, though, the two main parties are making a noise about some important employment matters. But what’s disorientating is that they seem to be vying for who can be more worker-friendly.
For starters, pay (which in my view is the most important employment right) will increase: the Conservatives will raise the Living Wage in line with average earnings until 2022; Labour will raise it immediately to £10/hour. Then, both sides say they will extend workers’ rights to those in the `Gig Economy’. Don’t forget though, that this will be used as an excuse to raise tax through National Insurance payments (remember the Budget U-turn?).
Brexit rears its head in the form of EU nationals living here: Labour will guarantee their rights immediately; the Conservatives will almost certainly do the same but want a reciprocal guarantee for UK nationals living in the UE. All existing EU employment laws will be guaranteed by both sides (for now, at least). And interestingly, both parties pledge to have some form of worker representation on Company boards.
But from here the parties go in different directions. In a sharp but expected turn to the left, Labour has made some big announcements such as abolishing fees for employment tribunals, banning zero-hour contracts, and bolstering collective bargaining. The SNP have said much the same. No prizes for guessing that the Conservatives will not go down these lines.
For their part, the Tories say shorter term mental health conditions will be classed as `disability’ under the Equality Act, will give workers the right to take unpaid time off to care for dependents, and will charge businesses for hiring migrant workers.
So what to make of it all? The big picture is that the only game in town is extending workers’ rights, with the differences being about how far the parties will go. This is in contrast to the old left/right arguments about the role of unions and state intervention in the employment market, and is in my view all the better for it.
What I can confidently predict, however, is that whichever party wins the election, the Government of the day will have plenty of wobbles along the way. A bit like us, really.