How would Labour’s Manifesto pledges affect the everyday worker?
01 June 2017
Workers' rights have become a key political battleground at this year's election following exposes of dire conditions at some major chains like Sports Direct, and high-profile legal challenges against "gig" employers like Uber. As a result, all of the major parties have made workers' rights pledges in their 2017 manifestos. The Labour Party's is the most radical and wide-ranging, promising to meet international labour standards set out by the International Labour Organization. But what would their proposals mean for the everyday worker?
01 June 2017
Workers’ rights have become a key political battleground at this year’s election following exposes of dire conditions at some major chains like Sports Direct, and high-profile legal challenges against “gig” employers like Uber. As a result, all of the major parties have made workers’ rights pledges in their 2017 manifestos. The Labour Party’s is the most radical and wide-ranging, promising to meet international labour standards set out by the International Labour Organization. But what would their proposals mean for the everyday worker?
1: Getting your voice heard in government
Currently, decisions affecting employment and workers’ rights are largely made at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), but it has been argued that – as the name implies – the BEIS largely represents the interests of employers rather than those of workers.
In order to ensure the voice of workers is heard in Westminster, the Labour Party proposes the establishment of a new Ministry specifically representing their interests in parliament and enforcing their rights.
This was one of the key recommendations of the Institute of Employment Rights’ Manifesto for Labour Law, in which 15 leading lawyers and academics came together to draw up a blueprint for progressive reform to tackle exploitation in the workplace and inequality in the economy.
2: Getting your voice heard at work
We are delighted to see the Labour Party has adopted many of the policies on workplace democracy that the IER recommended in its Manifesto for Labour Law, including the restoration of sectoral collective bargaining; and stronger trade union rights, all of which will make it easier for workers to get their voices heard at work.
Sectoral collective bargaining means that employers and unions meet at industry level to agree minimum standards that apply to all workers in that industry. This collective agreement could cover everything from pay rates, to health and safety protocol, to procedures for dispute resolution that allow workers to protect their rights in-house rather than having to take their boss to court. At the moment, employers have to meet minimum standards set by the government – such as the minimum wage – but relying on these statutory minimums gives employers a floor to aim for and attempts to find a one-size-fits-all solution for a very heterogeneous economy and workforce.
Collective agreements, however, make sure that wages and conditions are both fair and workable in the industry they cover, leading to higher average pay and better quality jobs.
But the pledges the Labour Party has put forth don’t just aim to improve pay and conditions at an industry level, they also help workers to get a better deal at enterprise level. The party promises to review the rules around union recognition – the procedure whereby unions gain permission to negotiate on behalf of workers at a company – which could lead more workplaces to become unionised. They have also said they will repeal the Trade Union Act, which will reverse new rules brought in by the Tories that have reduced union powers, including their ability to strike. This has reduced unions’ leverage in negotiations with employers. Lastly, the Labour Party has said it will allow unions access to workplaces to represent their members and recruit new ones.
3: Protecting precarious workers from exploitation
An increasing number of workers in the economy are in precarious work that offers then little or no guarantee of steady pay and workers’ rights. Over 900,000 people are on zero-hour contracts, around a million people are expected to be hired though agencies by 2020, and it has been estimated around half a million are falsely classified as self-employed, which means they are not accessing workers’ rights they are entitled to.
The Labour Party put forth several proposals to reverse this trend, including equal rights for all workers from day one. Currently, some people in employment are legally described as “employees” and receive the full suite of employment rights, and others are legally described as “workers”, eligible for fewer employment rights. Workers – which includes agency staff and people on zero-hour contracts – do not have the right to claim unfair dismissal, for example.
This means employers are evading workers’ rights like unfair dismissal by hiring through agencies, but under Labour’s proposal – which was also included in the IER’s Manifesto for Labour Law – all people in employment would have access to the same rights, regardless of how they were recruited.
The Labour Party has also promised to ban zero-hour contracts, thus going further than every other major party on the problem of zero-hour contracts and are following in the footsteps of New Zealand, who recently implemented a ban.
In a related proposal, the Party has promised to strengthen the law so that people who have worked regular hours for more than 12 weeks have the automatic right to a contract that reflects the hours they have worked.
The Labour Party has also promised to stop employers from exploiting migrants and agency workers in order to undercut other workers. There will be new rules on the so-called Swedish Derogation (which allows agency workers to be paid less for the job so long as they get a steady wage between assignments); as well as hiring staff from abroad.
Finally, the Party has pledged to prevent workers from losing out when their company is sold. At the moment, many workers find their pay and conditions suffer when their employing organisation changes hands. The Labour Party has pledged to ensure employers make clear plans to protect workers and pensions are in place during takeover; and to reverse Tory legislation that weakened TUPE regulations.
Labour’s promotion of trade union rights and sectoral collective bargaining will improve workers’ pay, wages 14.5% higher in unionised public sector organisations and 7.6% higher in the private sector.
However, Labour also pledge to strengthen statutory law and policy to increase pay, such as through paying all workers at least the Living Wage. The Conservative Party’s Living Wage is just a rebranded Minimum Wage, as it is not calculated according to the cost of living but by a percentage of average earnings. The Labour Party has promised to provide the Real Living Wage to all workers.
By 2020, the Real Living Wage is expected to reach at least £10 per hour. The Tory’s National Living Wage will only be £8.75.
Labour has also promised to end the Public Sector Pay Cap. At the moment, public sector workers’ pay has been capped under Tory austerity measures, but the wages for these millions of workers are not keeping up with inflation. As a result, public sector workers have seen a fall in real pay.
Public sector organisations will also have to meet maximum pay ratios of 20:1 between the highest and lowest earners, as will private companies bidding for public contracts.
Lastly, the Labour Party has proposed a ban on unpaid internships. This will prevent wealthier young people from being able to get more work experience than people from poorer backgrounds, which is currently one of the ways inequality is perpetuated.
5: A more equal workplace
The Labour Party has also introduced a raft of equality proposals with the aim of creating more diverse workplaces and reducing the gender pay gap as well as inequalities between and discrimination against people with protected characteristics such as BAME and LGBT groups.
Proposals include doubling paid paternity leave to four weeks; increasing paternity pay; strengthening protections for pregnant women and new mothers again unfair redundancy; giving equalities reps statutory rights so they can protect workers against discrimination; reinstating protection against harassment by third parties (such as clients and contractors); ensuring gender pay auditing; and holding a public inquiry into blacklisting – a scandalous practice which led to largescale discrimination against trade unionists.
6: Making sure your rights are properly enforced
Since the Coalition government introduced employment tribunal fees in 2013, workers have been forced to pay up to £1,200 to enforce their rights in court. An Oxford University analysis of government data recently revealed that this had made access to justice economically unviable for around half of all people with strong cases, thereby dissuading a significant number of workers from holding unscrupulous employers to account.
The Labour Party has promised to abolish employment tribunal fees.
7: More holidays and safer work
The Labour Party has also offered four new public holidays to land on the national patron saints’ days and to be additional to statutory annual leave entitlement, and stronger health and safety rules in businesses to ensure that everybody works in a safe environment.