The embattled incumbent Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn MP, and his current challenger Owen Smith MP have set out their vision for employment law reform. Voting will close on 21 September 2016 with results to be announced at the Labour conference on 24 September 2016. Mr Corbyn and Mr Smith have each set out their pledges. In the case of Mr Smith, within a specific ‘Workplace Manifesto’ and from Mr Corbyn, as part of a wider pledge document to ‘rebuild and transform Britain’.
Both candidates have stated they would repeal the Trade Union Act 2016, which increased ballot thresholds, introduced information and timing requirements for industrial action and imposed supervision requirements for picketing. Mr Corbyn has proposed that companies with more than 250 employees should be required to recognise a union for the purposes of collective bargaining over pay. Mr Smith would introduce e-balloting and a framework for voluntary collective bargaining in sectors with universal pay rates and ensure worker representation on all Remuneration Committees.
In an area of common ground for the candidates, both propose to ban zero-hours contracts and give workers greater protection (although importantly it is unclear what exactly this would involve). Mr Smith has also indicated that he would strengthen the definition of worker to address the issue of disguised employment.
Employment tribunal fees
The exact impact of tribunal fees on the number of claims lodged is somewhat uncertain. However, most would agree that, since their introduction in June 2013, fees have substantially decreased the number of claims brought. Both candidates would abolish employment tribunal fees, a proposal in keeping with the view of the House of Commons Justice Committee, which recommended a substantial reduction in the current fees.
Pay and conditions
Mr Corbyn would increase the National Living Wage to £10 per hour (a substantial increase from the current £7.20 per hour) whilst Mr Smith would look to strengthen enforcement of the National Living Wage. Mr Smith has also indicated he would strengthen enforcement of Health and Safety legislation.
Equal pay and discrimination
Mr Smith proposes to introduce new Equal Pay legislation to close the gender pay gap, reintroduce discrimination questionnaires and require publication of a race equality plan for all employers over a certain size. Mr Corbyn does not directly address discrimination in his ‘pledges’, although he states that he would force businesses with more than 21 staff to publish pay audits to highlight discriminatory wage practices and has previously proposed increasing the three month time limit for bringing discrimination claims in some circumstances.
As is often the case with such campaign pledges, the details are lacking and various proposals may never be taken forward. However, while we wait for the results of the election, it is clear that whichever candidate is successful, Labour will be proposing some significant changes to the current landscape of employment law.