Labour Party's plans for workers' rights

Labour Party’s plans for workers’ rights

The Labour Party’s plans for reforming employment law are contained in a document called Labour’s Plans to Make Work Pay and, should they be elected, would represent a radical change to various employment rights.

Labour’s plans originally were contained in its New Deal for Working People in 2021 but this has been amended since publication. Labour’s Plans to Make Work Pay now proposes a raft of changes, the most significant of which are summarised below. Labour remains committed to introducing ‘legislation within 100 days of entering government’, however it’s clear that many of its pledges will require consultation before appearing in legislative form. And, as ever, the devil will be in the details.

Zero hours contracts

Zero-hours contracts will be outlawed and anti-avoidance measures introduced. Contracts will have to provide for several hours that are regularly worked as judged against a 12-week reference period. For an excellent analysis of these proposals, see Darren Newman’s blogpost - Will Labour Ban Zero Hours Contracts?.

How these proposals affect the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act 2023 which is now on the statute book remains to be seen. The Act is awaiting implementing regulations. It would allow zero hours workers to request, twice a year, more predictable work in respect of days, times and the period that they work. Such requests do not have to be granted and can be denied.

Fire and rehire

Fire and rehire will not be banned. Labour recognises that viable restructuring (where there is genuinely no alternative) is an important right for businesses if they are to survive and thrive. However, it proposes to ‘reform the law to provide effective remedies against abuse’ and it plans to replace the newly introduced code of practice with a strengthened one.

Day 1 rights

The right not to be unfairly dismissed, sick pay and parental leave will accrue on the first day of employment.

Labour states that ‘this will not prevent fair dismissal, which includes dismissal for reasons of capability, conduct or redundancy, or probationary periods with fair and transparent rules and processes. We will ensure employers can operate probationary periods to assess new hires’. It’s unclear currently what this actually means.

Single status

Labour believes the 3-tier system of employment status (employee, worker and the self-employed) has contributed to the rise of bogus self-employment, with some employers exploiting the complexity of the UK’s framework to deny people their legal rights.

Therefore it will consult on removing the current distinction between employees and workers so that all workers are afforded the same basic rights and protections, e.g. sick pay, holiday pay, parental leave, protection against unfair dismissal, etc.

Redundancy

Labour will strengthen redundancy rights and protections, for example, by ensuring the right to redundancy consultation is determined by the number of people impacted across the business rather than in one workplace. This would effectively reverse the Woolworths case, by triggering collective redundancy consultation based on the total number of redundancies across a business rather than within a single workplace.

TUPE and whistleblowing

Labour will strengthen the existing set of rights and protections for workers subject to TUPE processes.

The Conservatives recently started a consultation on amending TUPE to clarify that it only applies to employees. Its fate is uncertain to say the least. Should Labour’s plan to abolish the distinction between employees and workers (see above) this would have a significant effect on the operation and coverage of TUPE.

Labour will also strengthen protection for whistleblowers, including by updating protection for women who report sexual harassment at work. This may encompass further regulation of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). The Conservatives initiated a review of whistleblowing law in 2023 but this seems to have withered on the vine.

Flexible working

Labour will adapt and build on existing changes to flexible working rights to ensure flexibility is a genuine default. This would seem to suggest a move from a right to request to a right which must be granted unless it is not reasonably feasible.

Parental, maternity and carers’ leave

Labour will review the parental leave system within the first year of forming a government. It will also ensure that parental leave is a Day 1 right.

Labour plans to enhance redundancy protections relating to maternity so that any dismissal (not simply an offer of suitable alternative employment in a redundancy situation) is only allowed, in the six months after the woman returns to work, in specified circumstances.

Labour will examine whether it should build on carers’ leave by making it paid.

Right to switch off

Labour will bring in the ‘right to switch off’, following similar models to those that are already in place in Ireland or Belgium, giving workers and employers the opportunity to have constructive conversations and work together on bespoke workplace policies or contractual terms that benefit both parties. This sounds more like a code of practice approach rather than a distinct legislative right.

Statutory sick pay (SSP)

Labour will ‘strengthen’ SSP, remove the lower earnings limit to make it available to all workers and remove the waiting period.

Trade union law

Labour would repeal much of the Conservative Party’s trade union laws, including the Trade Union Act 2016 and the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023.

It will introduce new legislation allowing union ballots to use modern technology rather than just post. Collective bargaining will be supported, union recognition procedures simplified, unions will be able to call for recognition in the gig economy and platform employment sectors, a duty on employers to inform workers of their right to join a union on a regular basis will be introduced, blacklisting protections will be updated so that third-party contractors are not used to circumvent such protections.

For a fulsome analysis of these proposals, see Darren Newman’s Labour’s Plans for Trade Union Law.

Equality at work

Among the areas that Labour will target are the following:

  • putting in place measures to ensure that outsourcing of services cannot be used by employers to avoid paying equal pay, including for work of equal value, to women
  • strengthening Equality Impact Assessments for public sector bodies
  • enacting the socioeconomic duty under s. 1 of the Equality Act (this imposes a duty on public authorities, when making strategic decisions, to pay due regard to reducing inequalities because of socio-economic disadvantage)
  • requiring large firms to develop, publish and implement action plans to close their gender pay gaps (and including outsourced workers in such reporting)
  • making mandatory the publication of ethnicity and disability pay gaps for employers with more than 250 staff
  • requiring large employers with more than 250 employees to produce Menopause Action Plans

Enforcement

Labour will set up a Single Enforcement Body to ensure greater coordination in the face of complex enforcement challenges. This body will have the powers it needs to undertake targeted and proactive enforcement work and bring civil proceedings upholding employment rights. The Conservative government prepared for this but ending up not doing anything.

All 3-month employment tribunal limitation periods will change to 6 months.

Employees will be able collectively to raise grievances about conduct in their place of work to ACAS.

Safer workplaces

While many know that there is a minimum legal temperature below which employees cannot be forced to work (16C), there never has been a legal maximum. Labour will ‘commit to modernising health and safety guidance with reference to extreme temperatures, preventative action and steps to ensure safety at work’.

Labour will require employers to create and maintain workplaces and working conditions free from harassment, including by third parties. Labour will strengthen the legal duty for employers to take all reasonable steps to stop sexual harassment before it starts. Does this mean beefing up the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023, the provisions of which are due to come into force in October 2024?