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General Election 2015 – A policy guide for employers
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With only a few weeks to go until the general election, you’re probably trying to decide who you vote for.

If you’re a small business owner, what the different parties are touting in terms of the economy might draw your interest; but what if you’re an employer too? What might happen if one party gains a majority this year?

Here is a run down of a few employment policies that the main parties are proposing for the next government. We’ve been through their manifestos so you don’t have to, pulling out the most important points for you as an employer.

Conservative employment policies

Starting alphabetically, and with the current government, let’s look at some of the promises that the Conservatives are putting forward in their manifesto:

– A boost to apprenticeships over the next five years, creating an additional three million, to provide employers with the skilled workforce they need; with a planned abolition of National Insurance contributions for apprentices under 25

– Help for small businesses through Employment Allowance, freeing them from the first £3,000 of employers’ NI contributions

– Tackle the disproportionate impact of strike action, with at least 40 per cent support required, and removal of restrictions banning the employers from hiring agency staff during strikes

– Increase of National Minimum Wage to £6.70 by the autumn, and on course for £8 by 2020

– Harness data from multiple agencies, such as Exit Checks data, to identify illegal immigrants and businesses that employ illegal workers

– Publish more earnings and destination data for Further Education courses, and require more accreditation of courses by employers

Essentially what the Conservatives are promising is a bit of a break for smaller employers just starting out, and those looking to train up skilled staff in their industry. Whilst strike action is unlikely to impact upon smaller companies, it’s worth taking note of in case you have plans for some pretty rapid growth!

The Green Party’s employment policies

The Green Party have a number of policies in their manifesto, one designed to help ‘small firms and the local economy’, specifically:

– Create a Citizen’s Pension scheme, similar to stakeholder pensions – employers would be obliged to offer and contribute, and employees are by default signed up from day one

– Make it easier for employers to take on staff and to pay the Living Wage by reducing Employers’ National Insurance to 8% in the long run, funded by a wealth tax

– Increase the Minimum Wage to £10 by 2020

– Phase in a 35-hour week

– End exploitative zero-hours contracts

– Reduce employment tribunal fees

There are a few policies here that will impact upon small employers, not least the reduction in National Insurance contributions. However, the definition of ‘exploitative’ zero-hours contracts specifically, is yet to be clearly defined.

Labour’s employment policies

Next up we have Labour – with a number of changes for both employers and employees to take note of, the most important of which are:

– Increase the Minimum Wage to £8 per hour by 2019, giving local authorities a role in strengthening enforcement

– Promote the Living Wage using government procurement within the first year of government, giving tax rebates to companies under Make Work Pay contracts

– Ban exploitative zero-hours contracts – those who work ‘regular hours’ for more than 12 weeks will have a right to a regular contracts

– Abolish the employment tribunal fee system, allowing easier access for employees and ensuring a quicker resolution for employers

– Give employers more control over apprenticeships funding and standards, in return for increasing the number of high quality apprenticeships they offer in their sector

This is perhaps a more challenging message for smaller or new employers to hear, and there are still some things to clarify (the definition of ‘regular hours’ for zero-hours contracts for example). However, those smaller employers that are willing to offer help for young people looking to get into skilled work will surely welcome the ideas that Labour have on apprenticeships.

Liberal Democrats’ employment policies

The Liberal Democrats, who have had a hand in introducing many of the Family Friendly policies we’ve seen in the last few years, have some further policies that smaller employers might want to be aware of:

– Encourage employers to provide more flexible working arrangements; expanding Shared Parental Leave with an additional ‘use it or lose it’ month for fathers, with the intention to make it a ‘day one’ right

– Ask the Low Pay Commission to look into an increase in National Minimum Wage, without damaging employment opportunities, and review unpaid internships

– Establish an independent review, to consult on how to set a fair Living Wage across all sectors

– Review Employment Tribunal fees, to ensure they are not a barrier for employees

– Create a ‘formal right to request’ for full contract when someone is on zero-hours

– Extend the Apprenticeship Grant for employers, the idea being to deliver 200,000 grants and expanding the number of degree-equivalent Higher Apprenticeships

– Support good practice among employers wanting to promote mental wellbeing

– Encouraging employers to shortlist any qualified disabled candidate and providing advice about workplace adaptation

– Doubling immigration inspections on employers, to ensure statutory employment legislation is being respected

– Encourage employers to promote employee participation and ownership

– Requiring employers to offer two weeks’ unpaid leave annually, for Reservists attending training camps

There’s quite a bit here, and it looks like a lot for employers to take in. However, there are bonuses for employers here, such as support for mental wellbeing in the workplace and continued help with apprenticeships.

UKIP’s employment policies

Finally we have UKIP, who also have a round of specific policies that other parties don’t cover:

– Ask employers to pool nursery provisions for all families within the local community, wherever possible

– Restrict access to EURES (European Employment Services), the EU jobs portal where some employers look for cheap labour from overseas

– Give British businesses the right to choose to employ British citizens first

– Businesses hiring 50 or more staff must give workers on zero-hours contracts either a full or part-time service contract after a year, if the worker requests it

– Ban on exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts

– Zero-hours workers must be given 12 hours notice of work available, and be paid for the work once notice is given. Employers cannot expect them to turn up only to be turned away when no work is available

There are a fair few rules on immigration here, as would be expected from a party that prioritises UK workers. However, the changes to zero-hours contracts and how they are enforced – depending on your business – would also substantially impact many smaller employers. It’s worth bearing in mind though that the current coalition has already put into motion banning exclusivity on zero-hours contracts.

We hope that this has helped to clarify, the policies that the main parties are offering for employers and their staff. Perhaps the main piece of advice to give is to ensure that you do in fact vote, it’s an important way for you to ensure that your voice is heard; not just on issues of employment, but many other crucial aspects of yours, and your workforce’s, daily lives.

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