What potential employment law changes could Labour introduce if they win the election?

If elected in July, what would a Labour Government mean for the employment law landscape? ‘Labour’s Plan to Make Work Pay’ launched at the end of May. And it’s clear that their vision continues to be very different to the Conservatives. The party’s ethos is to bring in employment law changes that protect employees even more and ensure greater security by removing what the party believes are exploitative practices.

So what are some of the main points?

A shake up of unfair dismissals

Day one rights are a major theme. This includes the proposed removal of the current two year period that’s in place before employees can bring an unfair dismissal claim. However, employers will be able to use probationary periods to ensure the suitability of new recruits, with employees only able to make a claim once their probationary period ends. (It’s worth checking what clauses you have in relation to probation periods to make sure they’re clear and robust and that you have the option to extend them if needed.)

Labour is also proposing a longer time period in which to raise unfair dismissal tribunal claims. It intends to introduce a six month time limit rather than the current three to bring it in line with other time limits (e.g. for equal pay claims).

Day one sick pay rights

Labour will remove the waiting period for sick pay and make it another day one right. It will also remove the lower earnings limit so sick pay becomes available to all workers. Labour will ensure people who currently earn under the SSP rate will receive what they call a “fair earnings replacement rate”.

Improving work/life balance

Labour is proposing several changes designed to help employees achieve a more successful balance between their personal and working life. These include:

  • The right to ‘switch off’: There will be a requirement for businesses to bring in workplace policies or contractual terms that allow employees to genuinely disconnect from work outside working hours. This will protect employees from feeling they must always be available to be routinely contacted outside working hours. Out-of-hours contact should only be in exceptional and legitimate circumstances.
  • Flexible working: Currently employees have a day one right to request flexible working. Labour proposes making flexible working the default position instead. However, employers will still be able to refuse to accommodate it in situations where it’s not “reasonably feasible”.
  • Parental leave: Labour plans to make parental leave a day one right.
  • Carer’s leave: Labour intends to review the Carers’ Leave Act with a commitment to consider the benefits of introducing paid leave.

Merging workers and employees into one category

At the moment, there are three categories: employee, worker and self-employed. Labour intends to consult about the removal of the distinction between “employees” and “workers”, giving this group the same basic employment rights. While there’s logic in bringing clarity around this issue, there are questions about its potential complexity in practice and possible tax implications.

Improving workplace diversity and inclusion

There are a range of proposals in Labour’s planned employment law shake up aiming to facilitate a fairer and more inclusive workplace for many more employees.

These include the introduction of mandatory ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting which will apply to larger employers with 250 or more employees. Action plans need to be put in place to ensure real progress towards closing the gender pay gap. Larger organisations with 250 or more employees will also be required to produce a written menopause action plan to outline the support that’s available.

Banning zero-hours contracts

Labour is keen to ensure a baseline level of security and predictability in employment and as such is seeking to ban zero-hours contracts. It proposes giving employees the right to have a contract that reflects the number of hours they regularly work, based on a twelve-week reference period, with reasonable notice if shift or work patterns change.

Tightening up on firing and rehiring

Labour is not planning to entirely ban “firing and rehiring”. But it does intend to strengthen the statutory code of practice so this approach is only used when there is absolutely no alternative and is more or less the only option a business has to survive.

Strengthening union rights

Labour wants to build better industrial relations to reduce the problems that the current Government has faced in the form of strikes and other types of industrial action. It sees the strengthening of union rights as a way to do this. Amongst its proposals in this area are:

  • making union recognition simpler and easier
  • providing greater protections for trade union representatives
  • using secure electronic and workplace ballots
  • requiring employers to inform employees of their right to join a trade union in their written contract.

Fair pay

Labour proposes extending the Low Pay Commission remit when it comes to its National Minimum Wage and Living Wage recommendations. This would enable it to take the cost of living into account when recommending rates. Labour also plans to remove age bandings which it believes are discriminatory.

Are there any other notable points in Labour’s employment law plans?

Yes there are. They include strengthening a whole range of existing employment rights such as extra protection for pregnant employees, employees in a redundancy situation, whistleblowers and employees who are subject to TUPE. Workers will be given the right to make collective grievances to Acas if a workplace issue affects several individuals. And unpaid internships that aren’t part of an education or training course will be banned.

Labour also intends to set up the Single Enforcement Body, a body that has been proposed by the Conservatives but as yet not implemented. This aims to stop the onus being solely on individuals to fight for employment rights they believe have been breached.

Is change on the way?

In its plan, Labour highlights that the last Government it formed introduced certain minimum rights into the workplace. For example, the National Minimum Wage, 28 days paid holiday, and parental leave. While they caused controversy at the time, they’ve gone on to become fundamental elements of today’s workplace. Whatever your perspective about Labour’s vision for future changes, it’s clear they intend to make progress quickly if they’re elected. It would be advisable to start looking at policies and contracts in your business just in case change is on its way. And please do talk to us if you need any HR support.

Employment Law, general election, labour

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