Labour Party propose significant changes to employment law

  • Posted

Labour recently announced a policy position that would make all staff, save for the genuinely self-employed, ‘workers’ with rights from the first day of their employment.

The current law

Presently, English employment law recognises three distinct categories of employment status:

  • employees
  • workers
  • self-employed contractors

Broadly speaking, a worker has fewer statutory rights than an employee. As workers have less independence from their employers than genuine self-employed contractors, they are nevertheless entitled to some basic protections such as the entitlement to the national minimum wage and holiday pay.

Only employees have the right not to be unfairly dismissed. Employees are also entitled to family leave, redundancy pay, minimum notice periods and the right to make flexible working requests.

The proposals

Labour has announced plans to scrap the distinction between workers and employees. This would involve “creating a single status of ‘worker’ for all but the genuinely self-employed, with rights from day one of employment”. Importantly, these rights would include protection from unfair dismissal.

All workers would also be given the right to work flexibly from the start of their employment.  Currently only employees have a statutory right to make a flexible working request and that right is subject to the condition that the employee has completed 26 weeks service before making the request.  An employer must handle statutory requests for flexible working in a ‘reasonable’ manner and may refuse a request for one or more of eight prescribed reasons. Under Labour’s proposal, employers would be legally required to accommodate flexible working requests, unless there were exceptional circumstances.

Labour MP Angela Rayner said: “[t]he new normal after this [COVID-19] pandemic must mean a new deal for all working people based on flexibility, security and strengthened rights at work”.

Labour is clearly taking aim at the so-called gig economy. Cases such as the headline ‘Uber case’ have highlighted not only the difficulty in distinguishing between employees, workers and the self-employed, but also the unequal employment rights afforded to each. Ending the distinction between workers and employees and removing the qualifying periods of employment necessary for associated rights will simplify employment law and will increase protection for workers. Whether Labour can actualise its proposals of course remains to be seen.

If you have any queries regarding this or any other employment matter, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team.