Conservatives Publish their General Election Manifesto
With three weeks to go until the general election, the Conservative party has published its manifesto “Forward, Together”. Here are some of the items which will be of interest in the workplace.
Employers with 250 or more employees will be required to publish more data on their gender pay gap (no detail is given) and larger employers will also have to report on their ethnic pay gap.
The Conservatives will take steps to improve the take up of shared parental leave and help companies provide more flexible work environments to help mothers and fathers to share parenting. Again no detail is provided. They also plan to introduce a new statutory entitlement to carer’s leave.
The current protections against discrimination provided by the Equality Act 2010 will be extended to mental health conditions that are “episodic and fluctuating” and they will amend health and safety legislation so that employers provide first-aid training and needs assessment for mental health.
Employers who employ certain vulnerable workers, such as those who suffer from a disability, those with chronic mental health problems, those who have committed a crime but who have served their sentence and the long-term unemployed will be given one year’s relief from National Insurance Contributions.
Child bereavement leave
The Conservatives will introduce a right to child bereavement leave. No detail is given of the length of the leave and whether it will be paid or unpaid.
All employees will have the right to request unpaid time off for training, so that they develop their skills in their existing jobs. Currently only employees who work for employers in Great Britain employing 250 or more employees have this right.
The National Living Wage will continue to increase so that it reaches 60 per cent of median earnings by 2020. It will then continue to increase in line with median earnings. Executive pay packages will be subject to strict annual votes by shareholders and listed companies will be required to publish the ratio of executive pay to broader UK workforce pay. Companies will have to explain their pay policies (particularly complex incentive schemes) better. The Conservatives will also commission an examination of the use of share buybacks, with a view to ensuring they cannot be used artificially to hit performance targets and inflate executive pay.
By 2020, the personal allowance will have increased to £12,500 (currently £11,500) and the higher rate tax band to £50,000 (currently £33,500). Corporation tax will have gone down to 17% (from the current 19%) and there will be no increase in VAT.
To ensure employees’ interests are represented at board level, listed companies will be required either to nominate a director from the workforce, create a formal employee advisory council or assign specific responsibility for employee representation to a designated non-executive director. Employees working for listed companies will also have a right to request information relating to the future direction of the company, subject to sensible safeguards.
For privately-owned businesses, the Conservatives propose to consult on how they might strengthen corporate governance.
Employment status and the gig economy
The Conservatives promise that the interests of those working in the gig economy, those working on traditional contracts and the self-employed will all be properly protected. No further detail is given and precise proposals will depend on the recommendations of the Taylor review.
The Conservatives confirm that the Great Repeal Bill will convert EU law into UK law so that workers’ rights currently provided by EU law will continue to be available at the point Britain leaves the EU. Parliament will then consider which laws to amend, repeal or improve.
They will not bring the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law and will not repeal the Human Rights Act whilst the process of Brexit is underway.
Net migration currently stands at 273,000. The Conservatives have repeated their objective of reducing immigration to sustainable levels, by which they mean migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands seen over the last two decades.
They will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas. There is no detail on how much that increase will be. They will also toughen the visa requirements for students. Students will be expected to leave the country at the end of their course, unless they meet new, higher requirements that allow them to work in Britain after their studies have concluded. Again, there is no detail about what those requirements will be.
The Immigration Skills Charge will be doubled to £2,000 a year by the end of the parliament, with the revenue generated being used to invest in higher level skills training for workers in the UK. This might be manageable for larger employers but for smaller employers who wish to sponsor Tier 2 migrants it might be a more significant expense.
The Conservatives will also ask the Migration Advisory Committee to make recommendations on how the visa system can become better aligned with modern industrial strategy. They anticipate that the advice will allow them to set aside significant numbers of visas for workers in strategically important sectors, such as digital technology.
The manifesto acknowledges that the current regulatory regime on pensions is insufficient to protect pensions savings from unscrupulous business owners, and the Conservatives plan to extend the powers of the Pensions Regulator and Pension Protection Fund to prevent major corporate scandals involving companies which sponsor pension schemes occurring again in the future. In particular, both pension schemes and the Pensions Regulator will have the right to scrutinise, clear with conditions and in some extreme cases stop mergers, takeovers or large financial commitments that threaten the solvency of a pension scheme. The Pensions Regulator will also be given new powers to issue punitive fines for those found to have wilfully left a pension scheme under-resourced and, if necessary, powers (similar to those already held by the Insolvency Service) to disqualify the company directors in question. They will also consider introducing a new criminal offence for company directors who deliberately or recklessly put at risk the ability of a pension scheme to meet its obligations. Alongside this, the Conservatives will continue to support the expansion of auto-enrolment to small employers as well as facilitating pensions saving through auto-enrolment for the self-employed.
For state pensions, the Conservatives will maintain the Triple Lock until 2020 (this is the guarantee introduced in 2010 by the previous coalition government that the state pension will increase each year by the higher of inflation, average earnings or 2.5% - the estimated cost of maintaining the Triple Lock is believed to be around £45 billion over the next 15 years). They will then replace it with a Double Lock under which pensions will rise in line with earnings or inflation, whichever is higher. This means that the current minimum 2.5% increase (the third element in the Triple Lock) will no longer apply from that point. The manifesto also contains an open ended commitment to ensure that the state pension age “reflects increases in life expectancy” and they have pledged to continue to promote long term saving arrangements and pension products, including the Lifetime ISAs.
To view the full manifesto click here
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