The Tories, Brexit and a new Prime Minister. What does the future hold for employment rights of UK workers?
We take a look at the three candidates left in the race for the next Tory Leader, and Prime Minister – Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May.
Turning to Mr Gove first:
For those eagle eyed employment law watchers this name will be well known. Mr Gove is, of course, the current Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor.
For over a year he has been presiding over the long-promised review of the employment tribunal fees, introduced in July 2013. This is the review, that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was busy “finalising” the timing and scope of as long ago as June 2014.
So far, no report.
This is likely to be because any review will be of huge embarrassment to the Government. Not only is it likely to show that there has been a huge reduction in claims; it is likely to show that low paid workers, and women in particular, are being denied access to justice.
It would seem that the reason for the delay is the time it is taking MoJ civil servants to scurry around for any other statistics to shore up their flawed idea.
More recently, during the Brexit campaign, Mr Gove described EU employment laws as “excessive” and that they should been taken back within UK control. It is unlikely that Mr Gove would wish for more control over employment law in order to increase rights for workers. He is no friend and advocate for the workers, and their rights.
Andrea Leadsom, a relative unknown, has some pretty terrifying views on employment law. In 2012 she spoke in a debate in the House of Commons, on the matter, where she proposed scrapping all regulations for businesses with three employees or fewer.
“I envisage there being absolutely no regulation whatsoever – no minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no pension rights – for the smallest companies that are trying to get off the ground, in order to give them a chance.”
The chip chipping away of rights is never going to be good for working people and is never going to end positively, particularly for those seeking redress through the law.
The scary thing about Ms Leadsom is that she was a leading Brexiteer. Free from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) these proposals are exactly what we may see happen over the next few years. The 2011 Beecroft Report and the MOJ’s Red Tape Challenge envisaged exactly such things.
Theresa May, the front runner. What does she think? You’d be hard pressed to know what Theresa May thinks about most things – other than the deportation of immigrants and asylum seekers, of course.
However, Ms May’s recent pronouncements on the status of EU migrants has raised huge concern among those EU citizens living and working in the UK. Her statement that their status in the UK cannot be guaranteed surely means that employers will think twice before employing workers from the EU and it means that those currently in employment may find their jobs at risk. This, together with the rise of race related hate crime in the UK, is a very concerning development for many in the UK labour market.
It is little remembered now but from 2010 – 2012 Ms May was also Minister for Women and Equalities. Her equality strategy –“Building a fairer Britain” was published in late 2010. The document’s main aim was to move away from legislation and regulation and towards a voluntary approach – in particular on gender pay reporting.
This policy is fairly typical of the current UK Government. However, it completely misunderstands that voluntary measures achieve very little for ordinary working women. The reality is that employers’ will, generally, not do something just to be seen as the “good guys”. They will only do it when they have to – particularly if it means less money in their pockets. Sadly, naming and shaming does work and unless gender pay audits are mandatory the gender pay gap will never be properly addressed.
So, she hasn’t said much but what she hasn’t been positive or reassuring. Given Ms May was on the Remain side of the referendum she could well feel, if elected PM, she requires to quieten some of those questioning her commitment to implementing a Brexit. A very easy way to tackle this would be to seen to reduce “regulation” on business once we are “free” of the protection of the EU. In this situation employment law is likely to be a top target.
Grim. Very grim.