• International Workplace
  • 19 May 2017

Conservatives pledge new rights to time off work for all

Prime Minister Theresa May, in what she has called the “greatest expansion of workers’ rights by any Conservative Government,” will unveil 11 pledges to improve workers’ rights as part of the party’s manifesto, ahead of the General Election on 8 June.

Among the pledges are new rights to care for sick relatives full-time, which follow an important recent case in which a woman with a disabled daughter was dismissed because her employer believed her daughter was a bigger priority than her job. A Tribunal ruled that she was discriminated against and lawyers advised caution when dismissing staff with caring responsibilities.

Also included are protections for ‘gig’ economy workers, which have been heavily debated of late, with several cases going through the courts in a bid to determine what rights these workers are entitled to.

Meanwhile, mothers returning to work following maternity leave or time off to care for loved ones may undergo ‘returnships’, which would provide extra training in order to get them back into work.

Theresa May said:

“I said I would use Brexit to extend the protections and rights that workers enjoy, and our manifesto will deliver exactly that. Our plans, backed up with strong and stable leadership, will be the greatest expansion in workers’ rights by any Conservative Government in history.

“By working with business, reducing taxes and dealing with the deficit we have delivered steady improvements to the economic prospects of working people. Now is the time to lock in that economic growth and ensure the proceeds are spread to everyone in our country.”

The 11 pledges are:

  1. Guaranteeing that workers will enjoy the same rights after Brexit as they do under the EU.
  2. Increasing the National Living Wage in line with earnings until the end of parliament.
  3. Protections for ‘gig’ economy workers, with a consultation on rights such as maternity leave.
  4. Worker representation on company boards.
  5. Giving workers the same right to information on their company's future as shareholders.
  6. New right to request leave for training.
  7. New right to care for sick relatives full-time.
  8. New rules to protect pensions from bosses' irresponsible behaviour.
  9. Extending the Equalities Act for those with mental health conditions.
  10. Right to child bereavement leave.
  11. ‘Returnships’ for mothers going back to work after a baby.

Commenting on the Conservative Party’s policy announcement, Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, said:

“This broad package of measures acknowledges the important debate that we need to have about the future of our workplaces in this election. It’s welcome to see a specific focus on this.

“However, the success of any of these measures will only be seen if the next government commits to working in partnership with business to see them through and ensure they work in practice.

“Giving clarity to the employment status and rights of gig economy workers is much needed, but we need to ensure we find the right balance between flexibility and security for workers and for employers as the world of work evolves. As we move beyond traditional employment frameworks it’s very important that people really understand what their employment rights are. We’re calling for the next government to commit to launch a ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign to ensure that employees have better information in an increasingly fragmented world of work and we hope to see all parties supporting this.

“The right to request leave for training purposes is a welcome step, although more detail and consultation on how this will be applied is needed, especially as we have seen with flexible working that the right to request itself is not a silver bullet. The biggest obstacle facing people in developing new skills is falling employer investment in skills and workplace training. With the growth of self-employment and contract work, and increased job mobility, how people will be supported for training and lifelong learning is a key question. This is why the CIPD has called for the piloting of revised individual learning accounts to encourage and help people to invest in their own lifelong learning. Equally, we have proposed a rethink of the apprenticeship levy to create a more flexible training levy which would benefit a greater number of employers and individuals’ needs.

“While we welcome the steps to improve employee voice in business, it is disappointing that the announcement is not bolder. Non-executive directors representing employees is unlikely to give workers enough meaningful voice in the workplace. We call on the next government to commit to a more robust package of reforms, rather than a potentially tokenistic measure which may not deliver the changes we need to see.”

Meanwhile, TUC General Secretary, Frances O'Grady said: 

“This is a promising set of commitments from the Conservatives, though it’s clear that much more detail is needed.

“Before the election, the Conservatives must set out the protections they will offer gig economy workers, and confirm that workers will be able to speak for themselves on company boards. They should also clarify that they’re sticking to their 2020 target for the National Living Wage. Working people have a right to know these details before they cast their votes.”