Coalition government agreement sets out employment law direction

We will review employment and workplace laws, for employers and employees, to ensure they maximise flexibility for both parties while protecting fairness and providing the competitive environment required for enterprise to thrive.

We will promote equal pay and take a range of measures to end discrimination in the workplace.

There are also pledges to extend flexible working rights to  all employees, Whitehall internships for under-represented minorities, and a national mentorship scheme for prospective BME business startups. As laudable as those principles are, there has been criticism of the lack of detail. The Equality Act and Human Rights Act aren’t mentioned at all.

The document is a far cry from previous statements by the Conservative party, and it may be that employment and equality contains some of the starkest differences between the coalition partners. See, for example,  the speech made by David Cameron just three years ago, where he pledged that a future Conservative government would withdraw from the EU’s Social Chapter. John Major negotiated an opt-out to this part of the Maastricht treaty in 1991, but in 1997 the Labour government signed up soon after coming to power. The Social Chapter requires states to outlaw discrimination on the basis of  sex, race, religion or belief, disability, age, sexual orientation, part time and fixed term working, and sets out a range of other protections such as the working time regulations. This inevitably raised questions of Cameron as to which of those pieces of discrimination legislation he’d do away with, which were never answered.

With the budget being the priority for the time being, we may well have to wait some time to see what is over the horizon, especially when (if ever) the Equality Act will come into force.

The full coalition document is here: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/409088/pfg_coalition.pdf

It’s a strange system where you get the manifesto after the election.