Promise of ‘greatest expansion of workers’ rights in history’ now in question, says employment law expert

The hung parliament could create increased uncertainty for HR professionals, as promises on workplace policies and employment law are left hanging in the air following the results of the UK’s snap general election. 

Although the Conservatives won the greatest number of seats, the party has not gained the 326 required to get an overall majority in the House of Commons, raising questions as to which policies it will be able to implement.

Crowley Woodford, employment partner at law firm Ashurst, said the result had opened “a can of worms”, adding: "Whether [prime minister Theresa] May can now fulfil her grand promise of the ‘greatest expansion of workers’ rights in history’ may be called into doubt following the result. There will be yet more uncertainty for workers and employers who are already alarmed about a post-Brexit future.”

After seeking permission from the Queen, May has now said she will go ahead with forging a government, working with the Democratic Unionist Party, despite the shortfall in seats for her party. 

With the Conservatives forming the government, it is likely that they will now push ahead with many of the policies in their manifesto, although the party’s lack of a working majority in parliament might mean they are met with considerable pushback.

Conservative pre-election pledges included introducing greater protections for gig economy workers, doubling the immigration skills charge for organisations employing migrant workers to £2,000 a year by the end of parliament, giving workers the right to request leave for training and introducing 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds.

Meanwhile, Brexit talks are due to start on 19 June. But Stephen Ratcliffe, employment partner at Baker McKenzie, said it was unlikely May would back down from the government’s commitment to preserving EU employment rights post-Brexit. “It will be interesting to see how today's result impacts the Brexit negotiating process – in particular the suggestion before the election that agreement might be reached on the rights of EU citizens currently working in the UK as early as the autumn,” he said. 

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, believes that Brexit negotiations need to be conducted from a position of strength to get the best possible deal for access to workers and skills, even if that means pressing pause on discussions for the time being. “Negotiations should be led by a government and a prime minister that will be in place for the duration, and so we call for a delay to the scheduled start of negotiations rather than a rush to begin in 11 days' time,” Cherry said.

And Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, stressed that although the impending Brexit negotiations were “high on the agenda”, there was also a “much wider agenda” to consider for HR. “A key focus must be on addressing workplace issues through a much more human lens,” Cheese said.

“By focusing on improving transparency in business, protecting and raising awareness of rights for workers and boosting investment in skills, we can hope to ensure that work can be a force for good, regardless of how, when and where people work. We look forward to working with the new government once it has been officially formed, to address these issues and ensure the UK is in a strong position to be a high-skills, high-value economy.”

 

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