The Conservative Party has been the party of workers’ rights over the centuries, from Shaftesbury’s Factory Acts of the 1800s to William Hague’s Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 to Peter Lilley’s Employment Rights Act in 1996. We have always understood that the decent treatment of people at work is not at the expense of industrial business success, but a foundation of it. Today, the Good Work Plan, as part of our modern Industrial Strategy, reinforces that historic tradition of the UK leading the world in the rights and protections we all benefit from, whether - worker, innovator or business owner.
In the UK we have record high employment across the country and wages are rising at their fastest pace in a decade, meaning more people than ever before have the security of a regular pay packet. Since 2010, the number of young people out of work has fallen and we have increased participation amongst historically under-represented groups. All records to be proud of, but we must never be complacent.
This success has been underpinned by an employment law and policy framework which strikes an effective balance between flexibility and worker protections. Our record employment rates come from businesses being able to thrive as a result of flexibility, innovation and culture of entrepreneurship which embrace technological advancement and new business models.
We are extraordinarily well-placed to benefit from these new technological advancements and our modern Industrial Strategy provides the long-term plan on how we will build on our strengths and reap the rewards of the new products, sectors and industries of tomorrow. We are committed to embracing the benefits of technological change, societal change and new employment practices. But with new opportunity comes new challenges. That is why the Government commissioned Matthew Taylor to carry out the first of its kind review into modern working practices, so we can ensure we lead the world and shape it to the benefit of British workers and businesses - rather than react to it.
Today, through our response to Matthew Taylor’s review, we are carrying out the biggest upgrade in workers’ rights in a generation. We are repealing the Swedish derogation – which currently allows agency workers to be employed on cheaper rates than permanent counterparts; Ensuring every worker has the right to a plain English day one written statement of rights, to include detail on eligibility for sick leave, holiday pay and details of other types of paid leave, such as maternity and paternity leave; Quadrupling the maximum employment tribunal fines for employers who are demonstrated to have shown malice, spite or gross oversight from £5,000 to £20,000; and bringing forward proposals for a new single labour market enforcement body.
The Prime Minister has committed that we will not only maintain workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU but enhance them. This Government has shown its commitment to leading the world on workers’ rights, through action rather than hollow promises - and we will continue to do so when we leave the European Union. Since 2015, parental leave can be shared by the father of a child, giving families choice, that is not part of EU legislation— the UK introduced it. In addition, the UK offers 18 weeks’ parental leave, and that provision goes beyond the EU directive. And all UK employees enjoy more than five weeks’ statutory annual leave—not just the four weeks set out in EU law. It is therefore clear that it is British law that sets the pace and the example and goes further than EU law and we will continue to enhance workers’ rights in the years ahead.
Our plan for Good Work is upgrading the rights of millions of workers to ensure we all benefit from fair and decent work. That both employers and workers have the clarity they need to understand their employment relationships and that our enforcement system is rigorous, fair and fit for purpose. This is our vision for the future of the UK labour market, a market that rewards people for hard work, celebrates good employers and is ambitious in boosting productivity and earnings potential – benefitting the whole economy whether workers, investors or business owners.
Greg Clark is the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy and Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells