A Manifesto For Labour Law

Manifesto front page.img_assist_customBy Keith Ewing, John Hendy and Carolyn Jones

The world of work has changed and with it the nature and role of the workforce. For Britain’s 31 million workers, many of the changes have had a devastating impact on their working lives and their living standards. Britain’s workers are among the most insecure, unhappy and stressed workers in Europe.

A prime factor in moulding this situation is a framework of law recognised as “the most restrictive in the Western world.”

It is a framework of law born out of 19th-century conditions, which has bypassed many advances of the 20th century, which ignores today’s economic and workplace realities and which is not fit for purpose in 21st-century Britain.

It is time for the law to change. Jeremy Corbyn has signalled his intention to review Britain’s framework of labour law, launching Workplace 2020 with Ian Lavery earlier this year.

In an effort to assist that review, the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) has drawn up a detailed contribution — A Manifesto for Labour Law: Towards a Comprehensive Revision of Workers’ Rights.

This manifesto represents an IER contribution to a long overdue debate on the future of labour law. It offers 25 major policy proposals drawn up by an impressive list of 15 of Britain’s law experts.

We believe this manifesto shows how the law can be used to create fair, just, secure, democratic and productive conditions of work which will diminish inequality and benefit the economy.

At the heart of our proposals is the need to ensure the voice of Britain’s 31 million workers is heard and respected: in government (via a ministry of labour), in the economy (via a national economic forum), and in industry (via sectoral employment commissions).

The role of employers in building a vibrant economy is acknowledged, but the concept of management’s unrestricted “right to manage” is rejected as undemocratic, unproductive and undesirable.

Instead, our manifesto uses as its model the experience of those economies, including post-war Britain, with extensive sectoral collective bargaining structures underpinned by strong trade union rights.

The benefits are threefold: collective bargaining helps to counter the unequal power of the employer; helps to reduce inequality in wealth and health; and helps to promote a stable and productive economy.

While the manifesto aims to shift the weight of regulation from legislation to collective agreements, that does not mean there will be no role for legislation.

So our manifesto sets out the role legislation will play in underpinning the collective bargaining process and protecting workers’ rights.

Consideration is given to ways to improve wages and working time, equality at work, pay equity and health and safety issues.

The manifesto also addresses the growing problem of precariousness experienced by so many of Britain’s workers.

It sets out radical dispute resolution solutions, based on the view that labour rights should be universal in their application (covering all “workers”), and effective in their enforcement (via the creation of a labour inspectorate and a labour court).

Our proposals for collective bargaining are placed in the wider context of the international treaties and human rights conventions (almost all of which are already ratified by Britain) which establish the minimum standards for labour globally.

Particular attention is given to freedom of association protections, standards on trade union autonomy and protection against acts of anti-trade union discrimination.

We highlight the need to repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 and replace it with positive rights to improve the organisational and financial security of trade unions, and to ensure that independent trade unions have access to workplaces and improved rights to represent their members.

As has often been said, collective bargaining without the right to strike is little more than collective begging.

But in Britain, the law has developed in such a way that industrial action is always unlawful unless the union can demonstrate it satisfies the complex requirements to gain limited statutory protections against judge-made law.

Over the years, attainment of statutory protection has been made repeatedly and seriously more difficult.

The time has come to change the default legislative position and provide a positive right to strike in line with Britain’s existing international obligations.

Our manifesto offers an alternative vision for labour law. This is a manifesto for raising labour standards and improving working conditions for all workers.

It proposes changing the way in which working conditions are regulated by embedding the voice of workers at national, sectoral and enterprise levels and moving responsibility for regulation from legislation to collective bargaining.

It is a model that has form — and proven successful outcomes.

  • The Manifesto for Labour Law was launched last week in the Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House, London. Speakers at the event included John Hendy, Keith Ewing and Carolyn Jones.


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