Insights Election 2024 employment implications – party by party: the Liberal Democrats


Election fever is now well and truly in full swing. Like it or loathe it, a general election always brings with it opportunities and promises for reform in a wide range of areas, not least employment and immigration regulation. With the Labour Party’s poll lead still sky high, there is the genuine prospect of significant developments in the employment and immigration law landscape following the election on 4 July 2024, particularly if their previously published plan to deliver a New Deal for Working People is anything to go by.

As the manifestos are now beginning to land, we’ll be running a series of briefings to summarise the key employment and immigration proposals from the three main UK political parties, as well as our thoughts on what these might mean for your business as well as the media and technology sectors in general.

Kicking things off – the Liberal Democrats!

A fair deal?

The Lib Dem manifesto launched on 10 June 2024 titled “For a Fair Deal”. But does it strike a fair balance in the employment and immigration sphere?

In summary and like with many manifestos, there is lots of aspiration (“to ensure the UK has the highest possible standards of… labour… protection”) but limited detail. However, whilst it is difficult to determine exactly what is being proposed in some areas, overall there are some positive proposals for employment and immigration reform which would seemingly look to strike a balance between improving worker rights (particularly in respect of parental leave and pay) whilst not overburdening business.

The key proposals are summarised below:

  • Making all parental pay and leave day-one rights and extending these to the self-employed. Parental pay rights currently kick in after 26 weeks’ service so this is a significant change, as would be the roll out to self-employed contractors;
  • Doubling statutory parental weekly payments (e.g. statutory maternity pay) to £350 a week;
  • Improving paternity leave entitlements, both by increasing pay rates to 90% of pay and introducing an extra use-it-or-lose-it month of leave for those taking paternity. This is again a significant increase on the current statutory position;
  • Requiring large employers to publish their parental leave and pay policies. It’s not clear what a ‘large’ employer would be in this respect;
  • In the longer term, when public finances allow, the introduction of even greater parental pay and leave rights including six weeks of use-it-or-lose-it leave for each parent at 90% pay;
  • giving staff in listed companies with more than 250 employees a right to request shares. Without detail, this seems very bland on the face of it – there is nothing currently to stop staff ‘asking’ for equity, but obviously no obligation for such a request to be granted!;
  • scrapping the lower apprentice rate of minimum wage and guaranteeing apprentices the general national minimum wage;
  • Establishing a new ‘Worker Protection Enforcement Authority’ to enforce the minimum wage, tackle modern slavery and protect agency workers. No detail is provided on what this means and how this would interplay with the current employment tribunal system;
  • A 20% higher minimum wage for those on zero-hour contracts. This is likely to have most significance for ‘gig-economy’ style employers but could also be relevant for daily, ad-hoc hires in sectors like Film and TV;
  • Shifting the burden of proof in employment tribunals regarding employment status from individual to employer. This would appear to introduce an ‘assumption’ of employment status which employers would then be required to rebut; and
  • Aligning statutory sick pay (SSP) with the national minimum wage and making it available from the first (as opposed to the current fourth) day of absence. This could potentially pose a significant cost increase to many businesses, which the Lib Dems are seemingly alert to based on the suggestion they will support small employers with such costs.
  • Overhauling immigration law so it’s fairer, simpler and clearer. A bold statement, and something that’s been attempted in the past but has clearly never been achieved!;
  • Replacing the new immigration salary thresholds with a more flexible and sector focused merit-based system for work visas. This suggests a more liberal approach to immigration which would likely be very positive for those businesses keen to hire overseas talent;
  • Reversing the increase to income thresholds for family visas, in an effort to ensure families and dependents can migrate together;
  • Introducing greater certainty for EU citizens and their families by automatically granting full Settled Status to all those with Pre-Settled Status.
A progressive agenda

Whilst not overly radical, there are certainly some progressive developments outlined within the Lib Dems’ proposals. The changes to parental pay and rights are significant, as are the increased sick pay rates and promise to shift to a more liberal legal immigration regime.

Here are our views on what would likely be the most significant implications for businesses generally, as well as the media and technology sectors:

  • the increased parental rights would likely encourage a greater take up of parental leave, particularly by fathers or partners of new mothers / primary adopters. These changes could be significant for those industries that regularly rely on atypical workers and freelancers (such as the Film & TV industry), given the proposal to make the rights available ‘day-one’ and extend them to contractors;
  • increasing SSP to the rate of the national minimum wage could potentially significantly increase sick pay costs for businesses without established company sick pay schemes. This is likely to prompt greater emphasis on proactive absence management practices (so a likely headache for most HR professionals!);
  • should there genuinely be an ‘assumption’ of employment status in certain situations, there will likely be an increase in disputes and litigation within industries that regularly use freelancers and contractors (e.g. Film & TV, Interactive Entertainment, IT and technology businesses); and
  • positively, a more flexible and liberal immigration regime would likely provide far greater scope to welcome overseas talent to your business, hopefully at a reduced cost!

So there are certainly some interesting proposals here, which would need careful thought by businesses to adapt to and integrate. However, the chances of us waking up to a Lib Dem government on 4 July 2024 are obviously fairly remote.

In the coming days, we’ll bring you our thoughts on the Conservative manifesto that was launched yesterday. Their chances on 4 July are perhaps slightly better than the Lib Dems… Stay tuned for our next update!