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| 8 minutes read

The manifestoes – employment and immigration law. Part three – SNP, Green and Reform

The General Election campaign is in full swing ahead of the 4th July election and the major UK parties have announced their manifestos. While the big issues in the campaign thus far have been around the NHS, tax and national infrastructure, all the parties have made various pledges regarding the world of employment and immigration law.

We’ve already examined the employment and immigration pledges by the Liberal Democrats in this article and the Conservatives here. In the third of our series of blogs looking at each of the main parties, today we focus on the SNP, Greens and Reform.

SNP – immigration law

The SNP’s vision is for an independent Scotland within Europe and the wider international community, championing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and resisting changes to the Human Rights Act. Their manifesto echoes much of the SNP-led Scottish government’s strategic plan, Building an Independent Scotlandpublished at the end of 2023. If they win a majority of Scottish seats, the SNP pledge to begin immediate negotiations with the UK Government to deliver Scottish independence and, if successful, rejoin the EU, re-enter the single market and restore free movement. Their manifesto lists some of the benefits, as the SNP see it, that rejoining the EU would entail, including access to workers from across the EU; re-entry of the Erasmus+ scheme; cooperation on cross-border crime; and access to the Creative Europe scheme to support Scotland’s creative industries. The SNP would also agree to an EU-wide Youth Mobility scheme to allow young people to benefit from living, working and studying in Europe. 

The SNP will push ahead with negotiations on further devolved powers on immigration to allow Scotland to take charge of all immigration-related matters. This “bespoke migration system for Scotland”, they argue, would address Scotland’s specific demographic and economic needs. This would include the introduction of a rural visa pilot scheme to mitigate against labour shortages in Scotland’s rural communities, a proposal which was previously published in September 2022 but dismissed by Westminster. The SNP would also review the immigration rules and expand the shortage occupation lists to give businesses better access to the international workforce. 

Other policies include continued support for Ukraine with an extension of visa rights while the conflict continues. In the context of the NHS, they will call for the reversal of the ban on care workers from overseas bringing their families with them to work in the UK. While not present in their manifesto, the SNP website also expresses a commitment to review family migration and to extend the rights of EU nationals in the UK automatically. 

Contrary to most of the other major parties, the SNP does not want to cut net migration. Instead, the SNP wish to attract more foreign migrants to counteract Scotland’s ageing population and to fill skills shortage gaps. The SNP’s pledges on migration ultimately depend on whether or not they can deliver independence or persuade Westminster to devolve further powers to Scotland. The mechanics of delivery aside, the idea of a bespoke Scottish migration system is something that is likely to be welcomed by Scottish businesses (especially the fishing, hospitality and renewables sectors), who struggle to recruit skilled labour in key shortage occupations and are still reeling from the recent hikes in the skilled worker salary threshold and visa fees. 

Scottish independence

  • Demand the permanent transfer of legal power to the Scottish Parliament to determine how Scotland is governed, including the transfer of power to enable it to legislate for a referendum.

EU membership

  • Rejoin the EU, re-enter the single market and restore free movement
  • Agree on an EU-wide youth mobility scheme

Strengthen devolution 

  • Demand a repeal of the Internal Market Act (IMA) to ensure UK ministers are not able to act unilaterally across policy areas that are devolved. 
  • Push for the Sewel Convention to be put on a proper statutory footing.

Bespoke migration system for Scotland

  • Devolve powers to create a bespoke migration system for Scotland that values those who decide to work, live, study and invest in Scotland and allows Scotland to address our specific demographic and economic needs.
  • Introduce a rural visa pilot scheme to mitigate against labour shortages. 
  • Review immigration rules and expand shortage occupation lists, so businesses have access to the workforce they need.

Asylum

  • Scrap the Rwanda Scheme and “stand firm against the demonisation of migrants
  • Oppose “no recourse to public funds” for asylum seekers 
  • Urge the UK Government to grant asylum seekers the right to work
  • Ensure asylum accommodation is safe, sustainable and dignified

ECHR

  • Oppose attempts to withdraw from European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) or change the Human Rights Act

Ukraine

  • Extend visa rights whilst the conflict continues

Care Workers

  • Call for the reversal of the ban on care workers from overseas bringing their families with them to work in the UK.

 

SNP – employment law pledges

The SNP was the last party to publish its manifesto, but employment law is currently a reserved matter for the UK Government. The SNP has asked for greater control over employment law and has demanded that employment rights and minimum wage should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament in order it has greater control. In terms of specific policy pledges, they include:

  • Once the Scottish Parliament had devolved power of employment rights they intend to ban exploitative zero-hours contracts, ban fire and rehire practices, take steps to close the gender pay gap, increase minimum wage to at least the national living wage, remove ‘age discrimination’ in pay levels.
  • Amend the definition of worker to include all but the genuinely self-employed.
  • Scrap the sick pay threshold and waiting days.
  • Increase paid maternity leave to one year (12 weeks at 100% pay; and 40 weeks at 90% or a threshold, whichever is lower) and increase shared parental leave to 64 weeks.
  • Protect the right to strike by repealing the Minimum Service Level legislation.

 

Evidently, the SNP cannot form the next UK Government and therefore will not have the ability to implement any of these policies unless these areas are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. It will be interesting to see if they can convince whoever forms the UK government to devolve these areas to the Scottish Parliament. Such a development would be consequential for employers operating across the whole of the UK with the potential for differences in employment law across the UK.

In terms of the specific policies announced many of these are shared or are similar to those announced by other parties e.g. repealing the Minimum Service Level legislation, increasing minimum wage and moves towards a single status of worker. Therefore, if powers were devolved there may not be as much deviation as one might expect.

 

Greens – immigration pledges

Welcoming the contribution of migrants and refugees to British society, the Greens go on to list seven policies in relation to immigration and asylum. These include:

  • An end to the hostile environment
  • Safe routes to sanctuary for those fleeing persecution.
  • Replacing the Home Office with a new Department of Migration, separating this function from the criminal justice system
  • End to immigration detention for all migrants unless they are a danger to public safety.
  • Abolish the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition that exacerbates social, economic, and racial inequalities.
  • Those seeking asylum and protection to be permitted to work while their application is being decided.

Immigration is not central in the Green Party manifesto, making its first and last brief appearance on the second to last page and largely supports a fairer asylum and visa system, which could be seen to be a more dignified and kinder approach compared to others.  

 

Greens – employment law pledges

In their manifesto, the Greens announced various policies that would impact on employment law and the world of work. These include:

  • Repeal current ‘anti-union’ legislation and replace it with a Charter of Workers’ Rights.
  • Introduce a maximum 10:1 pay ratio for all private and public sector organisations.
  • Increase the National Minimum Wage to £15 an hour (and remove the age bands), offsetting the cost of this to small businesses by reducing their National Insurance payments.
  • Ensure workers have full employment rights from day one, including for those in the gig economy and on zero-hours contracts.
  • Extend pay gap protections to all protected characteristics.
  • Require all large and medium employers to carry out equal pay audits.
  • Campaign for ‘safe sick pay’.
  • Move to a four-day working week.

Much of the Green manifesto is centred on ‘making work fair’ with a focus on strengthening the role of trade unions and workers’ rights, although what exactly would be included in the new Charter of Workers Rights is unclear, we assume it would reinforce the right to take industrial action.

Another key focus of the Green manifesto is around the issue of low pay with pledges to increase the minimum wage, equal pay and limit the pay gap between the top and bottom earners of a company. What this would include or how it would be enforced is unclear, for example, many top earners earn most via performance-related bonuses as opposed to salary.

Support for a four-day working week was mooted in their 2019 manifesto as was expansion to extend pay gap protections. Any policies in these areas would require action from employers.

 

Reform – immigration pledges

Unsurprisingly, stopping the boats and freezing all but essential immigration is top of the Reform Party agenda. Only essential migration, “mainly around healthcare” will be allowed. All dependents of international students will be banned (so presumably international students will still be permitted). A new Department for Immigration will be established (no details provided). With some exceptions, including health and care workers, the National Insurance rate will be raised from 13.8% to 20% for foreign workers to incentivise the hiring of British over foreign employees. 

Anyone arriving via small boat will be forcibly returned to France. Anyone who has travelled through a “safe country” (undefined) will be banned from claiming asylum or applying for citizenship. If any asylum seekers make it to the UK they will be processed rapidly, “offshore if necessary” but they most likely won’t have access to a lawyer because legal aid for non-citizens will be scrapped.

The Reform Party will withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), reform the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights. Foreign national criminals will be deported at the end of their sentences (as is already the practice) and some dual national offenders will be deported. 

The Reform Party Manifesto is as expected, containing a mix of existing government policy but one which does not necessarily address the skills shortage gap, especially in rural parts of Scotland. It is also not clear how they would be able to negotiate the return of asylum seekers to France, given the fact that the present government has been unable to achieve this. 

 

Reform – employment law pledges

Reform published its manifesto which is described as a ‘contract with the people’. It has little to say in relation to the world of employment law, with its primary focus on other issues. Where they have announced policies which would affect employment law it is often light on detail. Pledges include:

  • Increase the Income Tax threshold to £20,000; abolish IR35 tax rules; and generally reform the tax system.
  • Reform the tax system.
  • ‘Slash red tape’ for businesses by reforming ‘employment laws that make it riskier to hire people’.
  • Legislate to remove remaining EU regulations which affect employment law.
  • Replace the Equality Act 2010. 

As mentioned above, the manifesto is light on detail, so whilst some of the pledges are eye-catching it is unclear what would change in practice. For example, it isn’t specified which laws they would remove or reform so it is difficult to analyse with certainty what employers will need to be aware of. Within their pledge to replace the Equality Act 2010 they specifically mention their view that it requires ‘positive action’ which they want to remove. What this change would look like is unclear although the pledge suggests that the Equality Act would be repealed and replaced by new legislation. 

Tags

employment law, immigration