Employment reform under a Labour Government

Ahead of the election of the new Labour Party leader on 24 September 2016, the two frontrunners – Jeremy Corbyn MP and Owen Smith MP – have made a number of pledges to reform UK employment law. Smith has set out 25 pledges in his ‘Workplace Manifesto’, whilst Corbyn’s  ’10 pledges to rebuild Britain’ contains a number of employment related measures. Outlined below is a summary:

Topic What Corbyn has promised What Smith has promised
Employment Tribunals Both candidates have promised to abolish Employment Tribunal fees. These were introduced in June 2013, and have resulted in a decrease of 67% in the number of cases. Last month, the House of Commons Justice Committee published a review of the fees, which concluded that the fees should be significantly reduced, so as not to impede access to justice.


Trade Unions Corbyn has suggested that companies with 250+ employees should have to recognise a specific union for collective bargaining on pay.


He has also pledged to repeal the Trade Union Act 2016.

Smith has proposed to improve collective Trade Union rights via a number of measures:

  • Strengthen union recognition rights to provide for recognition where majority support is clear;
  • Provide mandatory access arrangements to workplaces for unions;
  • Restore full collective bargaining in the public sector;
  • Repeal the Trade Union Act 2016
  • Introduce e-balloting.
Contracts of Employment Both have pledged to abolish zero-hour contracts and give workers basic employment rights from their first day at work. Zero-hours contracts have come under real scrutiny in the last few years, with over 801,000 workers on them in the past year.


Smith has also promised compensation for cancelled shifts.


Equal pay New equal pay reporting obligations are set to come into force later this year, for employers with over 250 employees.


Corbyn has pledged to force businesses with more than 21 staff to publish pay audits in order to tackle unequal pay practices. Smith has also proposed new equal pay legislation to tackle gender pay issues, but it is not clear what form this will take.


Discrimination Corbyn’s website does not include any discrimination specific proposals. However, he has previously pledged to increase the 3 month limitation period for some discrimination cases. Smith has promised to reintroduce ‘discrimination questionnaires’ and to require companies over a certain threshold to publish a ‘race equality plan’.
National Living Wage Corbyn would increase the National Living Wage, which was only introduced in April 2016, to £10 an hour from its current rate of £7.20. Smith has pledged to strengthen the enforcement of National Living Wage but he hasn’t provided any further details in this regard.
Worker board representation Corbyn has not promised anything concerning this issue. Smith has promised that there will be more worker representation on company boards.


As they are both Labour candidates, it is perhaps not surprising that in terms of policy, there is little difference in relation to their proposals for employment law reform in the UK. Both seem keen on attracting as much support as possible before September’s election through a series of liberal, populist, and – at times – radical, policies. It will be interesting to see whether whoever comes into power will merely pay lip service to their promises, or genuinely seek to fulfil them.

This is all positive news for employees as not only will they potentially see an increase in pay but also access to justice with the removal of tribunal fees.  However, employers may find these reforms problematic if unions are given greater powers and they may even see an increase in spurious tribunal claims by disgruntled employees.

Devonshires Solicitors LLP regularly monitors the latest developments in employment law reform. For any further information regarding the above, please contact your usual member of the team.

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