Employment lawyers are in great demand again after last year’s landmark Supreme Court decision abolishing tribunal fees (see Labour Pains). Claims have surged and an underpowered courts service is predictably struggling to cope.
A stream of inconclusive ‘gig economy’ judgments is also keeping litigators and advisers busy. While employers urgently seek advice on how to engage with people contractually, there remains no ‘joined-up’ set of regulations at the interface of rights and taxation.
Then, of course, there is Brexit. Some hanker for a bonfire of regulations that would make the UK ‘more competitive’ as we go it alone.
This appears unlikely, at least in the short-term. The government’s white paper commits to ‘strong labour protections’ and the ‘non-regression’ of standards, meaning it will not repeal EU laws from which employment rights are derived.
The government also proposes that both the UK and EU continue to respect obligations of the International Labour Organization which – a briefing from the law firm Cripps notes – is very significant. The ILO’s fundamental conventions protect rights such as freedom of association and collective bargaining.
Employment solicitors contacted by the Gazette do not expect fundamental changes. They would doubtless welcome a degree of stability, following a period in which business planning has largely been a triumph of hope over experience.
Yet the prospect of fresh upheaval is real enough. Consider who might be the next PM. Dominic Raab, former City solicitor and a 16-1 shot, was among a group of Tory MPs that once described British workers as ‘among the worst idlers in the world’. He had previously implored the government to ‘urgently reduce the burdens of employment regulations’.
Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, has pledged a plethora of beefed-up protections which critics fear would ‘take the country back to the 1970s’ and cripple the economy as it readjusts.
Leaving the politics aside, I would hazard that – for employment lawyers anyway – a Corbyn premiership would be the more lucrative.