Labour Party Proposed Employment Law Reforms

Labour Party Proposed Employment Law Reforms

It is fair to say that, for many Labour Party supporters, Kier Starmer’s first 12 months as party leader have been something of a damp squib. He has largely refrained from attacking the government on its many failings in response to the Pandemic and has been mostly silent on policy matters. His few policy announcements have been highly cautious, recalling the ‘soggy Centralism’ of the ill-fated Ed Miliband premiership.

There were, however, some welcome signs of life last week as Starmer’s deputy Angela Rayner announced a set of policy proposals on employment law reforms. These were widely reported as involving the abolition of the current requirement for employees to have two years’ continuous service in order to claim unfair dismissal. This is not my reading of the proposals although as Labour did not release a formal policy paper it is difficult to be too specific on the finer detail.

The party did, however, release two press releases which suggest that their proposed employment law reforms can be broadly grouped into four areas:

  • Worker status – the consolidation of the current categories of ‘employee’ and ‘worker’ so that all workers who are not self-employed have the same rights including sick pay, holiday pay, notice, redundancy, unfair dismissal and parental rights.
  • Day 1 – the removal of qualifying periods so that most rights are available from the first day of employment.
  • Flexible working – a general legal presumption that workers will be allowed to work flexibility unless there is a good reason for them not to do so.
  • Trade unions – greater access rights for trade unions into workplaces.

In my view these Labour employment law reform proposals are positive and a big step in the right direction. The current division between ‘employees’ and ‘workers’ is complex, archaic and serves to deny hundreds of thousands of low paid workers from having basic employment rights. These are the Labour Party’s natural supporters and it is entirely right that they should be protected from the arbitrary termination of their employment.

The proposals on flexible working are also welcome. The pandemic has already created new patterns of working and has demonstrated, should proof be needed, that most workers can be trusted to work flexibly and can be equally, if not more, productive. The law should reflect social and economic trends and Labour’s proposal is a good example of how the law in this area could adapt. 

Of course, many will say the employment law reform proposals are pointless as the Labour Party isn’t in power and won’t be until at least 2024 and then only if it can overturn a huge Tory majority after an unfavourable boundary review. But this is to miss the point. Policy proposals have an intrinsic value as they help to shape the agenda. They make us reconsider the status quo and put the onus on those in power to justify it.

This blog was written by Mark Alaszewski, employment solicitor at didlaw.