What will (and won't) the Lib Dems do for workers?

Submitted by sglenister on Fri, 26/05/2017 - 15:50

26 May 2017

Workers' rights are a key policy battleground this election and here at the Institute of Employment Rights' Fact News Hub, we're giving you the lowdown on different party's manifesto pledges on the topic.

Here, we take a deeper look at the Liberal Democrat Manifesto to pick out what they want to offer workers and – just as importantly – what they are not offering workers.

Watch employment lawyer Alex Just analyse the manifesto on our video series, or read on below.

Unilateral guarantee of EU nationals' rights

As expected, the Liberal Democrats would offer all EU nationals the right to stay and work in the UK – a stance shared by the Labour Party but a guarantee that the Conservative Party has failed to offer.

EU workers' rights protections to be enshrined in UK statute

Here, the Liberal Democrats appear to be going further than the Conservative Party were willing to go with their Great Repeal Bill by promising to enshrine workers' rights in primary legislation, which many experts have highlighted is the only way to truly protect existing workers' rights. This also matches a proposal in the Labour Party's Manifesto and a long-running campaign by the Labour Party to protect workers' rights in primary legislation, which has included putting forth a Private Members' Bill that the Tories filibustered.

Independent review of implementing the living wage

The Liberal Democrats will establish an independent review on how to set a Genuine Living Wage across all sectors. As we pointed out in our analysis of the Conservative Manifesto, today's "National Living Wage" is in fact much more of a rebranded National Minimum Wage than it is a Genuine Living Wage (which is calculated by the cost of living). The Liberal Democrats have committed to paying the Genuine Living Wage in all central government departments and their agencies (and encouraging other public sector employers to do the same) while they consult on rolling it out nationally.

This policy is far more generous than the Conservative Party's promise to pay the National Living Wage, which is set at 55% of average earnings and will rise to 60% of average earnings in 2020. It is currently expected that the Genuine Living Wage will be around £10 per hour in 2020, compared with a National Living Wage of around £8.75.

However, the Lib Dems fall short of the Labour Party pledge to provide the Genuine Living Wage to all workers aged over 18.

Corporate transparency to fight inequalities

The Liberal Democrats promise to extend transparency requirements on larger employers to include publishing the number of people paid less than the Living Wage, the ratio between top and median pay, and data on gender, BAME and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps.

Again, this goes beyond what the Conservatives have promised but falls short of Labour's pledge to roll out maximum pay ratios of 20:1 in the public sector and in companies bidding for public sector contracts.

Introducing an employer kitemark to celebrate employers who treat their workers well

Here, the Liberal Democrats hope to pressure companies to provide a better environment from their workers in order to gain a good reputation among their customers, while shaming those who fail to provide decent pay and conditions.

Businesses winning kitemarks will be those who pay the Living Wage, avoid inpaid internships and use name-blind recruitment to fight against discrimination, the Lib Dems suggest.

While this offers something more concrete than the Conservative Party has provided, the Labour Party has gone further by promising to ban unpaid internships rather than simply shame employers who use them. The Tory Party did not mention unpaid internships in its manifesto, but its members filibustered a debate on the topic when it was brought to parliament.

Making it more difficult to exploit workers via zero-hour contracts

The Lib Dems have said they will put in place the "right to request" a fixed contract for workers on zero-hour contracts – a proposal it is expected Matthew Taylor will make in his forthcoming review of employment law, which has been roundly criticised as "virtually worthless" for workers.

They will also consult on introducing a right to make regular patterns of work contractual after a period of time.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has only given the vague pledge that it will look into further protections for "gig" workers, and the Labour Party has gone further than both parties by saying it will outright ban zero-hour contracts.

A ban on employment tribunal fees

Having been part of the Coalition government that introduced employment tribunal fees in 2013, it seems the Liberal Democrats have had a change of heart, as they now propose scrapping them all together.

Here, they match the Labour Party's proposal to do the same, while the Conservative Party has rejected calls to get rid of the fees.

Expanding parents' rights

The Lib Dems have pledged to expand today's Shared Parental Leave policy to add a 'use it or lose it' month of paid parental leave that they argue will encourage fathers to share childcare duties. They will also offer Day One rights to shared parental leave and flexible working, which means there is a presumption that work is flexible unless there is a clear business reason it cannot be.

Again, the Lib Dems offer more than the Conservatives but less than Labour, who promise both an additional month of paternity leave and an increase in paternity pay.

Labour has also pledged better protection for new mothers finding themselves first to the chop for redundancy.

Company boards to be 40% female by 2025

The Lib Dems want to see 40% of company board seats in FTSE 350 companies taken by women by 2025.

More employee-representation on boards

Here, the Liberal Democrats provide a stronger proposal than the Conservatives (who only offered a non-executive director as a representative of workers) by suggesting a German-style system of a two-tiered board structure that includes workers' representatives.

But trade unions ignored...

But despite a stronger workers' rights portfolio than the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats fail to engage with trade unions, mentioning them only once in the whole manifesto.

The Institute of Employment Rights argues that individual workers' rights will always fall short if trade union rights are not protected and strengthened (after having been diluted by this year's Trade Union Act – which both the IER and Labour Party believe should be repealed).

As there is an inherent imbalance of power between employers and workers, the vast majority of workers will lack the leverage to be able to negotiate for decent pay and conditions from their employer or to adequately enforce their rights. Trade unions exist to allow workers to organise collectively in order that they do have the strength to have their voice heard in the workplace and to protect themselves when their rights are breached.

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