Amidst building election fever, the three mainstream political parties unveiled their manifestos last week. The Liberal Democrats were first up when they launched their manifesto last Monday, with the Conservatives following hot on their heels on Tuesday. 

The Liberal Democrats put forward some interesting proposals, some of which, such as a change to employment status, were not dissimilar to certain of Labour’s areas of focus as set out in their Plan to Make Work Pay (MWP) – whilst others were unique to them, such as their proposal to make ‘caring’ a protected characteristic under equality legislation. The Conservative manifesto revealed that, for the most part, the Conservatives would be content to maintain the status quo as it relates to employment law with only minor tweaks proposed. You can read our thoughts on both parties’ employment proposals here.

Labour’s manifesto launch came on Thursday and the question for HR professionals and employment lawyers alike was whether there would be anything in the manifesto which went beyond or was different to what the party had already proposed in MWP. 

In MWP, Labour had already set out an ambitious package of employment reforms. You can read our take on these reforms here. First off and perhaps to no one's great surprise, in its manifesto, Labour is clear that it is committed to implementing MWP ‘in full’. 

Labour’s manifesto did not add any further detail to the proposals contained MWP. Although the manifesto reiterated several headline proposals from MWP, including the commitment to ban ‘exploitative’ zero-hour contracts, ending the practice of fire and rehire, introducing basic employment rights (including unfair dismissal protection) from day one and strengthening the ‘collective voice of workers’ including through trade unions, significant questions still remain about these policies (see our note for detail). For example, what would constitute an ‘exploitative’ zero-hour contract? In what circumstances would a business be permitted to use fire and rehire in order to ‘remain viable’? And how would Labour’s plan to allow employers to use probationary periods with ‘fair and transparent rules and processes’ work in the context of achieving a fair dismissal? Those questions (and more) remain. 

When MWP was published, a few, previously announced, policies were missing. Had they been quietly dropped, you might have asked? It would appear not. Various equalities policies which are not in MWP are in the manifesto; these include commitments to introduce a Race Equality Act to confirm the right to equal pay for black, Asian and other ethnic minority people, to strengthen protections against dual discrimination and to generally ‘root out other inequalities’. The manifesto also confirms that the right to equal pay will be extended to disabled people. 

Elsewhere the manifesto also mentioned a commitment to “transform the lives of working women including by strengthening… protections from… menopause discrimination ”. Whilst MWP referenced a need for larger employers to produce Menopause Action Plans, this is the first time that menopause discrimination has specifically been mentioned. 

So,  Labour has very ambitious plans for employment reform and it won’t be hanging about, it seems, in bringing its plans to fruition. In its manifesto, Labour restated its promise, if it wins, to introduce legislation ‘within 100 days’ to implement MWP. What that will mean on the ground, however, remains to be seen. The manifesto confirms that Labour will ‘consult fully’ before any legislation is passed and that necessarily will take time. Equally, given the sheer scope of their planned reforms, one would anticipate that this will necessitate some form of staggered timeframe for delivery, from a logistical perspective, if nothing else. 

So, in summary, what does the Labour Party’s manifesto tell us? Firstly, there will be no pulling back from anything promised in MWP, secondly the equality proposals which didn’t make it into MWP are still on the table and thirdly we will see a draft Employment Rights Bill within their first 100 days if Labour comes to power. 

With the polls still heavily backing a Labour victory, employers are likely to need to brace themselves for change. 

This blog was co-authored with Kate Redshaw (Head of Practice Development, Employment)