Future of Labour Law: progressive rights under a progressive government – Liverpool
An event report on what progressive workers' rights could look like
Photo by Conor Samuel
10th May 2018
About the Conference
by Dave Hawkins, Liverpool Trade Union Education Unit
The Institute of Employment Rights have for many years organised informative and thought provoking conferences. Today’s conference on the future of labour law: progressive rights under a progressive government once again produced an excellent panel of speakers that gave an insight into what labour rights could look like for working people under a progressive government.
James Harrison, chairing the conference gave an excellent overview of the topic for today: The future of labour law: progressive rights under a
progressive government and linked the conference to the IER’s Manifesto for Labour Law.
A Ministry of labour
Carolyn Jones, Director of IER, gave an informative presentation on what a Ministry of Labour could look like. She explained that a department with a cabinet seat and the remit of representing the interests of the UK’s 31-million strong workforce is essential for giving workers a voice. A Ministry of Labour was originally established in 1916 by then Prime Minister David Lloyd-George and was continued by both Conservative and Labour governments until it was abolished in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher. Currently there is no voice at the cabinet table for the millions of workers in Britain. As well as re-establishing the department, the IER Manifesto recommends the establishment of a new Labour Court and Labour inspectorate to oversee workers’ rights. “It is time for a change that would be good for workers and good for society,” Carolyn said.
Professor Nicola Countouris of UCL, “UK labour law is stuck in the 70s: not the 1970s but the 1870s,” he began. The free market has failed working people. An example is the abuse of zero-hour contracts. New definitions of ‘workers’ and ’employers’ are needed giving greater worker employment protection. Currently those defined as ‘workers’ are eligible for fewer rights than ’employees’. All people in employment should acquire the same ‘day one’ rights, as in many other countries, and probation periods should be no longer than three months and not used as a waiver from unfair dismissal legislation, Professor Countouris argued. Probationary periods should only be test of the ability to carry out the job. Furthermore, the cornerstone of new rights should be negotiated through collective bargaining and not decided unilaterally through contracts of employment, as at present. “There is the need to kick start the collective agenda that has been faltering for the past 40 years,” he concluded.
Professor Tombs of Open University, gave a presentation on health and safety regulation. He began by outlining why we should retain regulation as social protection. Over recent years there has been a steady decline in health & safety enforcement offers (HSE & EHO), for example in Liverpool there are currently no environmental
health officers at all. The current state of affairs is completely at odds with the intent of the Robens report. Successive governments have reduced
H&S regulation as a cost benefit to employers and to the detriment of worker safety. H&S needs a reversal of deregulation: “decent work is not a
radical demand it is a matter of human rights,” he said.
Dr Aristea Koukiadaki of the University of Manchester, gave a presentation on global trade deals and supply chains. The presentation, as with all the other speakers, was thought provoking and
stimulated debate. The presentation described the exploitation of workers and the links to global supply chains. Moving on, the presentation outlined
options for domestic regulation citing the French model as something to aim for.
Professor Sonia McKay of University of West England gave an excellent presentation that began by describing current union recognition legislation, and demonstrating how it is failing workers. There is a need to replace the current recognition legislation that is overly bureaucratic and too complex for workers to understand. Our current recognition is based on the flawed assumption that unions and employers are equal and, unlike most other countries, the law does not recognise unions as legitimate representatives of working people. There needs to be a simplified law with low thresholds to gain recognition.
John Hendy QC, Chairperson of IER, gave a presentation on the reinstatement of sectoral collective bargaining – one of the key goals of the IER’s Manifesto. Sectoral Collective Agreements would be negotiated by Sectoral Employment Commissions (on which both employers’ associations and trade unions would sit) and they would apply to all workers within a given industry, regardless of whether they were trade union members or not.
John went on to celebrate the political influence of the Manifesto, which has garnered enthusiastic support from the Green Party, SNP and Labour. Indeed, the Labour Party has said it will take the Manifesto forward as the blueprint for its future employment law policy and, indeed, its 20-point Fair Deal for Workers in its 2017 Manifesto For the many, not the few included several key recommendations of the Manifesto for Labour Law, including the reinstatement of sectoral collective bargaining, the re-establishment of a Ministry of Labour, stronger trade union rights, equal day one rights for all workers, a living wage, and the repeal of the Trade Union Act 2016.