At 7am on Thursday 7 May 2015, polling stations across the UK will open. They will close 15 hours later and the British public will have had their say. It may take a lot longer, however, until we understand exactly what they have said.
This year's general election is set to produce the most equivocal results in living memory. If current polls translate into political reality:
- the House of Commons will have MPs representing up to ten parties;
- neither the Conservatives nor Labour will be close to commanding a majority; and
- forming a government will be difficult and is likely to require coalition building.
All the parties have plenty to say about employment issues. In past elections, we've focused attention on the Conservative and Labour employment policies. This time, parties as diverse as UKIP, the Greens, the SNP and DUP may be key actors in forming a coalition.
To reflect the rising importance of the smaller parties, we've ploughed through ten manifestos to see what the parties are offering employers and employees. There are some consistent themes and some important differences.
We've outlined some of the key issues in this alert. We've also set out comprehensive coverage of the policies affecting employment and pensions in our manifesto guide.
Zero hours contracts: to abolish or not to abolish?
Zero hours contracts have received plenty of coverage in the past year. All the main parties have committed to take some form of action. This ranges between regulation, reform and restraint.
At one end of the spectrum, Labour and the Greens want to abolish zero hours contracts. Labour's campaign highlights an 'epidemic' of 'exploitative' zero hours contracts.
Their plans will provide a "regular" contract to anyone who works regular hours for more than three months. The SNP, SDLP and Plaid Cymru also want to take action to tackle employment insecurity.
The Conservatives, UKIP and Liberal Democrats acknowledge that zero hours contracts have a role to play in a flexible workforce, but they still propose some reforms and have committed to cracking down on exclusivity clauses.
Tribunal fees - a barrier to justice or bogus claims?
There is a clear division between the parties on fees for employment tribunal claims. Labour has pledged to abolish the current system. The Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru will review the system. The Conservatives and UKIP are silent on any changes to the current fee regime.
This is one of the clearest policy fault lines. Some think that tribunal fees prevent workers from bringing valid claims. Others hold that fees act as a hurdle and help to prevent bogus claims.
Executive pay - levelling the playing field
The Conservatives claim that Britain operates the toughest regime of bonus deferrals and claw-backs.
The other parties do not think that the current law goes far enough. Most parties plan for further regulation on executive pay. As an example, Labour is committed to forcing investment and pension fund managers to disclose how they voted on top pay.
The Liberal Democrats, Greens and Labour want stronger employee representation on remuneration committees. This is part of a general thrust supporting more direct employee involvement in business.
Maximising the minimum
Most of the parties have pledged to increase the national minimum wage over the course of the next parliament. By 2020, the hourly rate could be £8 (under the Conservatives and Labour) and £8.10 with Plaid Cymru. Under the SNP, it would reach £8.70 and £10 with the Greens.
The Greens and Plaid Cymru have the most radical plans on low pay. They commit to converting the national minimum wage into a much higher living wage.
The Conservatives have outlined a series of strong measures aimed at curbing strikes. They would amend the hurdles for lawful industrial action with a new turnout threshold. This will require at least half of the union's members in the affected workforce to vote.
This would still, however, permit strikes with only a little over 25% support (based on a 50% turnout and 50% +1 support for industrial action from that turnout).
The Conservatives are also proposing a tougher threshold for lawful industrial action in 'essential public services'. These are described as health, education, fire and transport. In addition to the turnout thresholds above, lawful industrial action in these sectors will require the support of 40% of all who are entitled to vote.
The other parties are more concerned to encourage employee participation in business. There are various proposals to support employee-owned businesses, employee scrutiny of key corporate decisions and executive remuneration and employee-elected directors for medium to large companies.
Flexible working and equalities
All of the parties are keen to burnish their family friendly credentials with a series of policies on flexible working and childcare. Whatever the outcome of the election, it is likely that funded childcare places will increase from the current 15 hours per week for three and four year olds.
There is also a raft of policies on gender equality, equal pay and discrimination. All the main parties have committed to take action on gender equality and equal pay, so it is likely that the focus on this that was maintained through the last parliament will extend into the next.
You can see the full details of what each of the parties is promising on employment, and compare these commitments, in our comprehensive employment and pensions manifesto commitments table.