Information is now emerging on the changes employers can expect under the Conservative – Liberal Government. ‘The Coalition: Our Programme for Government’ was published on 20 May 2010 and outlines the following principal commitments on employment issues:
- Gender equality
- Promoting equal pay generally (however, as yet there are no details on how the Government intends to do this)
- The Conservatives had previously made clear that they did not support compulsory equal pay audits, a key feature of the Labour Government’s Equality Act, but both parties have now suggested that they will impose such audits on some employers
- Promoting gender equality on the boards of listed companies (again, the details are scarce at the time of writing)
- Work and families
- Introducing flexible parental leave, allowing parents to share maternity and paternity leave between them (though the Conservatives had suggested during the election campaign that the first 14 weeks would automatically be allocated to the mother)
- Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees
- It is unclear at present whether the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto promise to give fathers the right to time off for ante natal appointments will be adopted by the coalition Government.
- The default retirement age of 65 will be phased out but over what period of time is unclear.
- Working Time Directive
- The application of the Directive in the UK will be limited. We presume this means limiting the application of the ability to opt out from the Directive. Again, the detail is unclear.
- The coalition Government have promised “robust action to tackle unacceptable bonuses in the financial sector”
- The Liberal Democrats had previously suggested that they would tackle problems in the financial services sector by, inter alia, capping cash bonuses at £2,500 annually, preventing board directors from receiving any bonuses and preventing loss-making banks from paying bonuses. More of this appears in the document.
- Under the coalition Government the Bank of England will have overall responsibility for financial regulation and gain powers to oversee risk monitoring. This does not go as far as the Conservative plans to scrap the U.K. banking regulator, the Financial Services Authority, altogether.
Many of the details are sketchy at present and with the Government’s promise to prioritise cutting the deficit above all other manifesto pledges many of these policies are likely to be pushed to the back burner for some time. Certainly the only ones mentioned in the Queen’s speech were removing barriers to flexible working and promoting equal pay. To the extent there are significant changes to areas such as parental rights and gender equality these are likely to come from Europe. In December 2009 the European Council announced that its focus on jobs post recession would not be allowed to detract from the drive for gender equality. Parental rights are already being reviewed.