• Election 2024 : A Personal Wishlist

    General elections can be a strange time. A lot of hope and a lot of cynicism is coursing through the atmosphere as we watch the three main parties – and others who aim to get a stakehold in Parliament – produce their manifesto proposals.

    At the same time, many of us are reflecting on the changes we would like to see. So I’m setting out my personal wishlist for the subject I know best – employment law.

    Employment rights are a hugely important issue but they are often overlooked or underplayed. Good employment relations help businesses and society as a whole. A system that allows or even encourages bad businesses to cut corners and treat people unfairly leads to a “race to the bottom” where good companies find it hard to compete.

    Curtailing employment rights may appear to make life easier, and may profit some businesses but, of course, employees are consumers too. Job insecurity and low wages reduce spending power and weakens the economy.  

    On the other hand, too much “red tape” can lead to stagnant and failing businesses where unsuitable employees are kept on because it is simply too expensive and difficult to dismiss them.

    There’s certainly a balance to be struck, and our lawmakers need to ensure that there is both flexibility and protection within the system – all the more important now with the rise of new technologies that will continue to affect employment into the future and which our current laws are not formulated to deal with.

    A further point to make: “Business” is often used as a catch all term, but businesses are not all created equal. The requirements of a small company with a local or national client base are very different from those of a global corporation, and it is important that political parties and governments bear those differences in mind.

    1. Improve the Tribunal system  

    The first item on my wish list is one that most people (unless they have made or defended a claim) might not be aware of – the current chaos in our Tribunal system. The lack of resources for Tribunals (and, indeed, courts in general) over the past decade has seen them go from efficient organisations where claims are processed and heard within  a reasonable time, to utter meltdown. It is almost impossible to get through on the telephone, judgments are sent out months after hearings and a claim can take many years to resolve. Long delays mean that bad or corrupt employers are able to evade their responsibilities by closing their companies down, whilst good employers are put through unnecessary years of work in defending claims that in the past would have been dealt with swiftly. The impact on claimants is huge – an already stressful experience becomes so long drawn out that they are unable to effectively move on.

    Any incoming Government that truly has an interest in employer/employee relations must address that issue as a priority. There is absolutely no point in making laws if no one can effectively enforce them.

    Reviewing the three main manifestos, the Labour Party have proposed to bring the Tribunal system up to speed including introducing further digitisation, and both  Labour and the Liberal Democrats have proposed a single enforcement body to enforce legislation such as the minimum wage.  This was proposed by the Taylor Review as long ago as 2017 and the Conservative Government at that time accepted the recommendation. Seven years on, however, nothing has materialised and no mention is made of the issue in the Conservative manifesto.

    A single enforcement body would help with issues that affect large groups of people and those who are marginalised or lacking in the knowledge needed to tackle unfair treatment. Such a body may also encourage the business community as a whole to adhere to legislation thus reducing the number of employment claims.

    2. Clarify employment status and regulate the “gig economy”

    There is no point in giving employees rights if businesses are able to circumvent those by offering unfair and inappropriate forms of self-employment. 

    The landmark decisions in Uber and Pimlico Plumbers have sent a message to certain industries to beware of taking advantage of new technology to create a new kind of workforce that effectively has no rights at all. This issue doesn’t just affect the individual but has wider ramifications for our tax and benefit system. In addition, if employment status is unclear, it becomes very difficult for people to know what their rights are or how to enforce them.

    The Conservative party has not made any comment on this issue in their manifesto although in 2018 they responded positively to the Taylor Review recommendations on the “gig economy” including clarifying employment status and ensuring that every worker achieves National Minimum Wage. In the forthcoming hustings I hope they will be held to account and asked about their future intentions.

    Labour’s proposals on this issue have been published under the heading “Labour’s Plan to make Work Pay” which they promise to bring into effect within 100 days of entering office. Their stated intention is to move towards a single status of “worker” (as differentiated from the genuinely self-employed) and that is to be welcomed. They also say they will “ensure all jobs provide a baseline level of security and predictability, banning exploitative zero hours contracts and ensuring everyone has the right to have a contract that reflects the number of hours they regularly work, based on a twelve-week reference period.” Again, this is all to be welcomed.

    As for the Liberal Democrats, they pledge to “modernise employment rights to make them fit for the age of the gig economy” by establishing a new category of “dependent contractor” in between employment and self employment which would bring with it entitlements to basic rights such as holiday and minimum wage. It is unclear what advantage this would bring from the current “worker” status which is already available, and in my view would probably confuse the situation still further. Clearly however they do take the issue seriously and intend to shift the burden of proving employment status at tribunal from the individual to the employer.

    Like Labour they propose to give those on zero hour contracts better conditions such as the right to request a fixed hours contract after 12 months which cannot be unreasonably refused. Other promises are rather vague such as the suggestion that they will “review rules concerning pensions to that those in the gig economy don’t lose out”.

    3. Control the use of AI  

    New technologies always pose a threat to working conditions, whether through reducing the number of workers required, or by downgrading the work itself so that fewer skills are needed (or both) and a good government should ensure that people do not suffer accordingly. The potential threat AI poses goes further than any technology we have seen before. We need to treat it as a servant before it becomes our master, and that will mean regulation.

    Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats respond to these concerns, the Liberal Democrats referring to the need to “play a leading role in global AI regulation, agreeing common standards for AI risk and impact assessment, testing, monitoring and audit” – an important recognition of the global aspect of this issue. The Labour manifesto focuses on “protecting good jobs and protecting good future jobs” proposing to “work with workers and their trade unions, employers and experts to examine what AI and new technologies mean for work, jobs and skills, and how to promote best practice in safeguarding against the invasion of privacy through surveillance technology, spyware and discriminatory algorithmic decision making.”

    The Conservative Party refer to AI in a somewhat more positive light (as befits the “party of business”) and they say they will “continue investing over £1.5 billion in large-scale compute clusters, assembling the raw processing power so we can take advantage of the potential of AI and support research into its safe and responsible use.” They further refer to the increased use of AI as a route to “transforming” public services and the NHS, though with no particular detail as to who will be providing the AI or own the information it produces.  


    So that’s my wish list, and none of it is controversial or new. All these recommendations were set out in the Taylor Review commissioned by the Conservative Government in 2017. The focus of that review was that the jobs available to people in the UK should be satisfying, fairly paid, secure, with the chance of development and progression, and where people have a voice in what happens to them. Whatever the outcome of the election, here’s hoping our future leaders consider not just the existence of jobs, but their quality. In a country that is one of the wealthiest in the world, is that really too much to ask?

    Our solicitors are always on hand to give you friendly, professional advice. Please contact Zoe on 0203 858 9765 or email zoe@mulberryssolicitors.com. Mulberry’s has offices in Brighton and London.
    This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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