David Green, partner and head of the employment and pensions group, Charles Russell
“Ironically, one of the biggest changes a Conservative government may make to employment legislation is not part of their employment policy – this is the plan to replace the Human Rights Act, which they consider has undermined the government’s ability to deal with crime and terrorism, with a British Bill of Rights.
“The Human Rights Act requires public bodies to act in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights. While private sector employees, unlike public sector employees, cannot directly enforce convention rights, public bodies such as courts or tribunals are under a duty to interpret domestic legislation in line with the convention. As a result, decisions involving convention rights, such as the right to legal representation in disciplinary hearings, may effectively be extended to private sector employees.
“If the Human Rights Act is replaced, the courts and tribunals may no longer be required to interpret legislation in this way.”
Jonathan Exten-Wright, partner, DLA Piper
“Much recent employment legislation is derived from European law, and short of withdrawing from Europe there is little a Conservative government could do to bring about major change.
“The Conservatives have committed to bringing in compulsory pay audits for employers found to have discriminated by a tribunal, which would be a significant step towards reforming equal pay law.
“A Conservative government would also introduce a more flexible system of parental leave, allowing parents to divide leave after the birth of a child more equally. If widely taken up, such a move could have major implications for employers, particularly in sectors that traditionally have more male employees.”
Tony Hadden, partner, Brodies
“Based on comments in the media, we think that the Conservatives will aim to reduce regulation and ‘simplify employment law‘.
“For instance, there is a proposal that new businesses will not pay tax on the first 10 workers they hire. With an emphasis on business and job creation, and a focus on who an employer can hire (and fire), it is likely that, under a Conservative government, small business exemptions may creep back into employment legislation – for example, in the areas of equality legislation, flexible working, information and consultation obligations, and protection for part-time, fixed-term and agency workers. This may have to involve renegotiating the European dimension, but the Conservatives appear more bullish about that than the other parties.
“While mindful of avoiding increased costs, the Conservatives have also said they want to introduce the ability to transfer maternity leave between mother and father, and to extend the right to request flexible working to all parents with children under 18.”
Linda Jones, employment partner, Pinsent Masons
“The Conservatives’ stated aim is to ‘simplify’ employment law to make it easier to hire people, especially for small businesses. ‘Less red tape’ is a familiar Tory battle cry. But what is this likely to mean in practice?
“David Cameron, as a thoroughly modern man, has declared himself to be pro-family, so he supports flexible working and parental leave; pro-women, so he supports initiatives to reduce the gender pay gap; and pro-diversity, so he is very unlikely to repeal laws on discrimination.
“One area where the battle lines are already being drawn is public sector pay and public sector pensions. Savings need to be made, and that means cuts.
“The Tories have already made it clear that they think public sector pensions are unsustainable at their current level and that national pay bargaining is an anachronism. If both or either of those issues is tackled following the election, industrial unrest is sure to be the result.
“On a more general level, there is a view that the Conservatives may attempt to help small businesses by exempting some of them from certain employment legislation – for example, some health and safety legislation, or perhaps more controversially, denying workers in small businesses the right to claim unfair dismissal. So far, however, all this is speculation.”