Employment status and zero hours contracts – what do the parties have to say in their UK election manifestos?

2 July 2024 | Applicable law: England and Wales | 4 minute read

The Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green Parties each have proposals in relation to employment status and the connected issue of zero-hours contracts. There are no specific employment status proposals in the Conservative manifesto. We consider what each party is putting forward. 


Labour's main manifesto document does not comment directly on employment status, but does state its commitment to implementing Labour's 'Plan to Make Work Pay: Delivering a New Deal for Working People' in full. This sets out a commitment to: 

  • Transition to a single status of 'worker' and a simpler framework differentiating between workers and the genuinely self-employed;
  • Consult in detail on that framework with a view to promoting flexibility but preventing avoidance of legal obligations by a minority of employers;
  • Consider measures to provide accessible and authoritative information for people on their employment status and what rights they are owed.

Labour also state a commitment to end 'one-sided' flexibility and ensure all jobs 'provide a baseline level of security and predictability', by banning 'exploitative' zero-hours contracts and ensuring everyone has the right to a contract which reflects the number of hours they regularly work. 

In respect of the genuinely self-employed, Labour plans to introduce: 

  • A right to a written contract (so as to benefit, for example, freelancers);
  • Action to tackle late payments; 
  • Extending health and safety and blacklisting protections to self-employed workers.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats would:

  • Establish a new 'dependent contractor' employment status, in between employment and self-employment, which would carry entitlements to basic rights such as minimum earnings levels, sick pay and holiday entitlement. They also commit to reviewing the tax and National Insurance statuses of each category, 'to ensure fair and comparable treatment';
  • Shift the burden of proof in employment tribunals, such that the onus would be on the employer to make out its case on status, rather than the employee;
  • Set a specific minimum wage rate, 20% higher than normal, for zero-hours workers at times of normal demand, to compensate them for the uncertainty of fluctuating work levels; 
  • Give zero-hours workers (and agency workers) the right, after 12 months, to request a fixed-hours contract (and prevent employers from unreasonably refusing such requests).

The Green Party

The Green Party would:

  • Deliver equal rights for 'all workers currently excluded from protections'. This is stated to apply to 'gig economy' workers and those on zero hours contracts;
  • Bring 'gig economy' or 'platform' workers (i.e. those working for a work-platform like Uber or Deliveroo) under a single legal status of 'worker', with 'full and equal rights from the first day of employment';
  • Gig employers that repeatedly breach data protection, employment or tax law will be denied licences to operate.


Although Labour's manifesto indicates that legislation will be introduced within 100 days for some aspects of its 'New Deal for Working People', it seems highly unlikely that employment status will be tackled that quickly. Employment status has for many years been a notoriously difficult topic on which to legislate effectively. The differing party proposals show there is some consensus (at least amongst these three parties) on what the issues are (employment status and the treatment of 'workers', whether in the gig economy or more broadly, as well as the future of the zero-hours contract). There is much less consistency regarding the solution. 

Currently, the UK has a three-tier system, with differing levels of rights and protections for employees (the most protected group), workers (who enjoy a more limited set of rights) and the self-employed (who have limited statutory rights, although are covered by e.g. discrimination legislation). 

'Good Work: the Taylor review of modern working practices', published in July 2017 identified a need for the same basic principles to apply to all forms of employment, a clearer mechanism to distinguish 'workers' (which it called 'dependent contractors') from 'employees', more protection for workers and stronger incentives for firms to treat them fairly. The Conservative Government consulted on this but no action followed. The Liberal Democrat proposal to create a new 'dependent contractor' status, with additional rights, seems to go some way to adopt this proposal, while preserving the current three-tier status quo.

More radical is Labour's proposal to move, in time, to recognise just two categories, 'workers' (presumably encompassing  'employees' as well as what are currently recognised as 'workers') and the self-employed. (It is not clear whether the Green proposal essentially amounts to the same thing or is more narrowly focussed on specific rights for gig economy workers.)  The Labour manifesto states that there would be consultation 'in detail' on a simpler framework and certainly there are some obvious challenges in implementing a genuinely single-status for 'workers', not least in determining (on the Green and Labour proposals) what rights to bestow on them and when. For example, some workers operate within highly flexible working arrangements, potentially with long gaps between engagements – would e.g. sick pay or 'family friendly' rights be applicable to this group, and if so, how?

Labour's position on zero-hours contracts has evolved, from an initial commitment to a full ban to focusing on 'exploitative' zero-hours contracts, such that people with regular hours could after 12 weeks move away from zero-hours contracts (but someone who wished to stay on a zero-hours contract could do so). The Green Party's proposal to deliver equal rights for workers currently excluded from protection (including zero-hours workers) sounds interesting, but there are practical questions similar to those thrown up by Labour's single-status proposal: what rights, how and when? 

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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