Insights Election 2024 employment implications – party by party: the Conservatives


You will hopefully have seen our recent briefing about the Liberal Democrat manifesto and what this could mean for the future of employment and immigration law if the Lib Dems were to find themselves with a seat at the government table following the election on 4 July 2024. Now it’s time for the Conservative Party whose manifesto launched the day after the Lib Dems, on 11 June 2024.

As with our last briefing, the purpose of this piece is to summarise the key employment and immigration proposals of the Conservative Party and the implications of these for business and the wider media and technology industries.

So, I take it there’s a plan?

For anyone following Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s election campaign to date, you’ll be well aware of how keen he is to emphasise that he has a clear plan for the future which he claims is at odds with the lack of any plan from the Labour opposition. It’s hard to argue with him, given how many times the word ‘plan’ appears within the manifesto (it appears 17 times on the contents page alone!).

But what plan is there for employment and immigration reform from the party promising bold action and a secure future for all? Hopefully a slightly better plan than the preparations the Conservative Party made for the prime minister’s schedule at the recent International D-Day Commemorations…

In short, the key takeaway is don’t expect much by way of new employment regulation. There is virtually nothing new to note from an employment law perspective at all. Immigration on the other hand is, unsurprisingly, much more of a focus in terms of the Tories’ plan for future regulation.

The key policies for the Conservatives are set out below:

  • As had been briefed before the manifesto launch, the Conservatives propose to amend the Equality Act (the UK’s primary legislation aimed at preventing discrimination and harassment in the workplace) to clarify that the protected characteristic of sex means biological sex only. The aim with this change is to protect female-only spaces and maintain competitivity in women’s sports, although most commentators consider such a change is unnecessary;
  • The current ‘fit note’ regime will be reformed in order to prevent workers being signed off sick by default. The proposed new system would move the responsibility for issuing fit notes away from GPs to specialist work and health professionals, via the government’s new WorkWell service. Change in this area could certainly be positive for both employers as well as employees, provided it isn’t at the expense of the general drive within many businesses currently to focus on and improve staff wellbeing. It’s unclear though how shifting those responsible for the provision of sick notes will produce much impact in this area; and
  • The Conservatives propose a dedicated flexible coordination service so that everyone who wants to work in the film, TV, gaming and music sectors can work on live productions whilst benefiting from at least 12 months of secure training. On the face of it, this sounds very positive for the creative sectors although there is no detail regarding how this support will actually work in practice.
  • The most significant proposal on legal immigration is the plan to introduce a binding, legal annual cap on work and family visas. The cap will supposedly be set at a level that explicitly takes into account the costs and the benefits of migration and will reduce each year of the next Parliament. This could have significant implications for those businesses who are keen to benefit from overseas talent, particularly if the cap is set as aggressively as the rhetoric suggests it will be;
  • The Skilled Worker threshold and the Family Income requirement (both currently £38,700) will be increased by inflation automatically. There is clearly therefore intended to be no relief or relaxation for these thresholds, which are already substantially impacting the numbers of (and complicating the process related to) skilled worker applications;
  • Migrants will be required to undergo a health check in advance of travel. Their Immigration Health Surcharge will be increased and they will be required to buy health insurance if they are deemed to be a likely burden on the NHS. This would appear to create yet a further headache for employers looking to bring in skilled workers; and
  • In addition to the above, there is a promise that all visa fees will be increased, by an unspecified amount.
A plan that delivers?

Whether you consider the Conservatives manifesto represents a clear plan will likely depend on your political persuasion. It’s hard though for those with any interest in employment reform to not come away feeling disappointed at the missed opportunity, particularly in respect of areas of employment law which are crying out for further clarity and certainty for business (such as considerations related to employment status).

So what should businesses and the media and technology industries take away from these proposals? Here’s our main thoughts at this stage:

  • Reducing net (legal) migration will clearly be one of the fundamental priorities of another Conservative government. That’s not surprising – Conservative ministers have been briefing on this agenda for quite some time now. The reality though of the proposed cap is stark. If that is even achievable, it will inevitably complicate visa applications considerably in the coming months and years. Employers will need to consider many more potential routes to entry than previously and it’s quite possible that applications will become an ever more thorny scramble. This could prove a significant headache for businesses that are accustomed to bringing in talent (such as multinational companies and those operating in the Film & TV and Interactive Entertainment sectors);
  • There would appear to be (ironically) no real plan to develop employment law should the Conservatives achieve success on 4 July 2024. This could be welcome news for some employers – no ‘day-one’ rights or new regulation to worry about or wade through. However, there is scope for frustration from business and workers alike with the lack of proposals that have been made. For many employers, reform in some areas of employment law would potentially be quite popular, such as legislating to provide greater certainty in status and rights disputes, or a reworking of the multitude of extremely complicated statutory parental leave and pay regimes;
  • Notwithstanding the apparent lack of ambition for future employment law reform, the Conservatives have shown the capacity in the last 14 years to legislate in this area in response to topical developments. For example, the recent changes to holiday pay law are significant (particularly for sectors like Film & TV) and the legislation due at the end of the year that will require businesses to take a more proactive approach to prevent sexual harassment is undoubtedly a positive step forward. We therefore wouldn’t be surprised to see another 5 years of Conservative government approach employment law in the same way – e.g. nothing in particular planned but watch this space as you never quite know what might happen!

That’s two manifestos down, and one to go. Hope you’ve enjoyed the read so far!

Next up, Labour. Keep your eyes peeled for our briefing once we’ve digested what they have to say!