IER experts submit fair recovery plan to Labour Party policy forum

IER experts have submitted 41 recommendations to transform the world of work.

23 Jul 2020| News

The IER has submitted a new policy paper to the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum containing recommendations designed to ensure the UK’s economic recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic is fair to all.

Reconstruction after the crisis: Repaying the nation’s debt to our workers was co-authored by IER Chair, Lord John Hendy QC, and IER President, Professor Keith Ewing, IER Treasurer Geoff Shears, and IER Director, Carolyn Jones.

It sets out 41 proposals for reform, with the overarching aim of ensuring that the burden of recovery does not fall on the shoulders of the poorest and most vulnerable.

During the national lockdown, two million workers lost their jobs. The latest projections by the Office for Budget Responsibility estimate that unemployment will reach 3.36 million in the coming months, as the furlough scheme ends and employers shed their workforce.

What’s more, a severe economic contraction expected to be as large as 35% of GDP – significantly deeper than the 2007-08 recession – will slow recruitment, pushing unemployment levels to peaks not seen since the 1980s.

While the Coalition government of 2010 and the Conservative governments that followed it used reductions in public spending to tackle the last financial crisis by paying down debt, there are clear signs public opinion has swayed against austerity and towards major economic changes – indeed, only 6% in a recent YouGov poll were in favour of returning to the pre-Covid status quo.

Indeed, as the IER’s paper lays out, public awareness of the inequalities inherent in the UK’s workplaces has risen as a result of the pandemic.

“The pandemic … revealed to many the remarkable and otherwise forgotten irony that some seven million ‘key’ workers, essential to maintain the fabric of society, are (doctors excepted) amongst the worst paid and least legally protected of the entire workforce,” the authors wrote.

“Too often, they suffer from poor terms and conditions, precarious legal status, insecure and unpredictable hours, income and jobs, and lack of protection of their health, safety and wellbeing.

“The contrast between their critical role and the terms and conditions under which they work reveals the irrational and unjustifiable nature of the so-called ‘labour market’ in which working people are no more than disposable commodities, ‘human resources’.”

Workers are not commodities, but human beings, the experts stress, and the only fair economic strategy will treat them as such. The economy should be democratised, with each worker’s voice being heard at the very top.

A new Ministry of Labour should be instated to represent workers in Parliament, and to drive through changes to the labour market that provide a channel through which workers’ voices can be heard in their respective industries.

The infrastructure for workplace democracy should be based on sectoral collective bargaining, through which minimum rates, terms and conditions of work will be agreed at sectoral level by a Bargaining Council on which employers and workers are equally represented.

Underlying the negotiations of Bargaining Councils should be a stronger set of statutory workers’ rights, for which everyone in employment is eligible from day one on the job.

These statutory rights should include:

Tackling low pay and job insecurity

  • New rights governing the relationship of agency workers with end-user employers, instead of just with the recruitment agencies that supply them.
  • Extended rights to paid breaks between shifts and at weekends.
  • A right to a minimum weekly pay, thereby removing the insecurity of zero-hours contracts.
  • Compensation for cancelled shifts, proper notice of changes to shifts, and additional hours to be paid at a premium rate.
  • A right to flexible working conditions except where it would be unreasonable or impracticable.
  • An end to unpaid work, except where it is as part of an educational course.
  • An end to the public sector pay cap and the abolition of Pay Review Bodies, except where agreed by Bargaining Councils.

Making sure workers’ voices are heard.

  • The repeal of the Trade Union Act 2016.
  • The right to take industrial action, with some restrictions on industrial action eased, including the rule that says workers can only take action against their own employer.
  • Permission to ballot workers for industrial action at the workplace or electronically.
  • Reasonable access to the workplace for trade unions, and a right for workers to be represented by a trade union at work.

Making the workplace equal

  • A right to a workplace free of violence, bullying and harassment, reasonable adjustments for women experiencing the menopause, and a ban on dismissing pregnant women.
  • Extensions to maternity and parental leave.
  • A requirement on employers to facilitate the election of equality and environmental representatives.

Improving workplace justice

  • Unfair dismissal law to be made fairer to workers, who will be compensated to the tune of their full measure of loss if successful at tribunal.
  • Improvements to TUPE, whistleblowing and equality and discrimination law.
  • Fairer redundancy law, including an extension to the minimum notice and consultation periods, and an increase in statutory redundancy pay.
  • Fairer tribunals with greater powers, and with employer and trade union members sitting with the judge.
  • A royal commission to update every aspect of the law on health and safety at work.

Upskilling the workforce

  • A Lifelong Learning Passport for all workers and a Knowledge and Skills Framework in each sector, to advance the skills, training, education and qualifications of the workforce.
  • The re-establishment of the Union Learning Fund.

An ethical economy

  • The implementation of an ethical trade policy to ensure that supply chains observe minimum standards for which the UK supplier is responsible.
  • A public inquiry into blacklisting so that this practice becomes a thing of the past.

Download the full paper