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What a Labour Government might mean for employment law

The next general election must be held by January 2025 at the latest and rumours of an October 2024 election abound. The polls suggest that we will see a change in government and, whilst there is still a chance that these might alter, we take a look in this note at what a Labour Government might mean for employment law and workers’ rights.

In 2021 the Labour Party published its Green Paper “A New Deal for Working People” and at its October 2023 Party Conference it made a number of employment pledges on workers’ rights and committed to introduce legislation within 100 days of power by bringing forward an Employment Rights Bill.

Labour’s stated aims are to address pay, job security, inequality and discrimination and to improve employment rights in each of these areas. The following are their key employment proposals:

  • Ban zero hours contracts and ensure that anyone working regular hours for 12 weeks or more has the right to a regular contract.
  • Employment rights and status: Employment status will be reformed to create a single status of “worker” for all but the “genuinely self-employed”.  It will ensure all workers have the same basic rights and protections including sick pay, holiday pay, parental leave and protection against unfair dismissal without the need for a qualifying period of service (currently 2 years).  
  • End fire and rehire by improving consultation procedures, adapting unfair dismissal and redundancy legislation and ensuring notice and ballot requirements on trade union activity do not inhibit defensive action to protect terms and conditions.
  • Flexible working:  Workers will have a right to flexible working from day one.  Note the current and proposed changes in April 2024 relate to the right to request flexible working.    
  • Health and safety: Enforcement will be overhauled and healthy and safe working environments will be fostered.
  • Mental health to be put on par with physical health:  the law on health and safety will be reviewed and revised.  Awareness of neurodiversity will be raised and provision for stress, mental health, the impact of new technology and new materials and the impact of emerging health and lifestyle issues (e.g. long Covid) will be reviewed.
  • Right to switch off:  a new right to disconnect and not be contacted outside of working hours has been signalled.  
  • Stronger family friendly rights:  statutory maternity and paternity leave will be extended, the right to bereavement leave will be introduced and protection for pregnant women strengthened by making it unlawful to dismiss a woman who is pregnant for six months after her return except in specific circumstances.
  • Single enforcement body:  This will be established and funded to enforce workers’ rights with extensive powers to inspect workplaces and bring prosecutions on behalf of workers.
  • Strengthening workers’ rights: The time limit for bringing claims will be extended and tougher penalties will be introduced for those who fail to comply with tribunal orders including personal liability for those that were directors of companies at the time.  The caps on compensation will be removed.
  • Trade Unions:  Workers will be empowered to act collectively via the roll-out of Fair Pay Agreements through sectoral bargaining.  These will establish minimum terms and conditions including relating to pay, pensions, working time, holidays, training, diversity and inclusion and health and safety.  Unions will be enabled to “stand up for their members” and collective bargaining boosted.  Labour also plans to simplify the trade union recognition process and reform trade union ballots. Trade union representatives will have strengthened rights and protections.
  • Wages:  The Low Pay Commission’s remit will be expanded so that NMW would take account of the real cost of living.  Labour will immediately raise the minimum wage to at least £10 per hour.

Inequality and discrimination

  • Sexual harassment is a key area of reform.  Employers will be required to create and maintain workplaces free from harassment including by third parties.  Women who report sexual harassment at work should get the same protection as other whistle-blowers.
  • Those with caring responsibilities will be given greater protections including paid family and carers’ leave.
  • A number of measures will be brought forward to close gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps.  Ethnicity pay gaps will be made mandatory for firms with more than 250 staff.
  • A new Race Equality Act will tackle structural racism including low pay for ethnic minorities and fines for those who did not take appropriate action on pay data.
  • The position of Secretary of State for Women and Equalities will be created for the first time.

It remains to be seen whether Labour will win the next election, but if they do, it looks as though there will be a cornucopia of changes to employment law which will radically alter the workplace.  At the moment, we have the headline-grabbing proposals but as ever, the devil will be in the detail and I would expect some retrenchment in the new rights that Labour have signalled.  We will keep you posted!

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