Labour is no longer committed to raising sick pay rates or extending it to the self-employed, according to new documents that reveal a series of tweaks to party policy on its flagship workers’ rights reforms.
But the party is now committed to doubling the time for employees to bring tribunal claims, which it said could particularly help those filing pregnancy discrimination claims, as well as acting to “promote a positive work-life balance for all workers”.
Party figures involved in the National Policy Forum have been sent a final copy of the party’s current full policy programme, consolidated in one place for the first time. Representatives will vote on it at party conference in Liverpool in October, and it will help shape the next general election manifesto.
The document, seen by LabourList, reveals a range of changes to the party’s flagship employment reform package, the New Deal for Working People, as outlined in both a 2022 green paper and a draft NPF document earlier this year.
A party source said: “After extensive engagement, the NPF document adds detail to strengthen and clarify the agenda and to provide businesses and workers the certainty they need in many areas.”
But a Momentum spokesperson accused the party leadership of “going backwards” on policy, saying: “What few transformative policy commitments remain have been watered down, from fair pay agreements to a single-tier status for workers, while other progressive commitments look in doubt, like an increase to sick pay.
“The Starmer leadership’s conservatism isn’t just failing to align with the bold vision demanded by members, unions and the public – it is creating a rod for its own back, by committing to continue with a failed model.”
No pledge to hike sick pay or extend to self-employed
A green paper on the New Deal published last year had committed to “increase Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), ensuring that we never again face a situation where workers have to choose between their health and financial hardship.” It also pledged to make it available to all workers “including the self-employed”.
But the final NPF document does not explicitly say Labour will raise sick pay or extend it to the self-employed. It states that a Labour government would “strengthen statutory sick pay, remove the lower earnings limit to make it available to all workers and remove the waiting period”.
Party sources said the policies were practical, proportionate and remained transformative for low-paid workers.
They highlighted the fact sick pay had risen since Labour’s green paper, and suggested self-employed workers’ differences to employees meant a different, likely voluntary scheme would be needed.
‘The party of the self-employed’
Elsewhere the document has a new line on self-employment not in the draft, however. It reads: “Labour is the party of the self-employed and recognises their significant contribution to the UK economy, and the next Labour government will support and champion them.
“We will strengthen rights and protections to help self-employed workers thrive in good quality self-employment, including the right to a written contract, action to tackle late payments, and by extending health and safety and blacklisting protections to self-employed workers.”
Six months to file employment tribunal claims
The New Deal green paper promised to “extend the time period” for bringing employment tribunal claims.
The draft had not specifically included this pledge, however, instead simply saying Labour would “provide quicker and more effective resolutions” via tribunals.
That line is repeated, but it now adds: “In line with the Law Commission recommendation in April 2020, we would increase the time limit within which employees are able to make an employment claim from three months to six months, bringing the time limit for all claims in line with the time limit for statutory redundancy and equal pay claims.
“This will particularly support those who are seeking to make claims for pregnancy discrimination, as evidence suggests women struggle to make funds available to lodge claims within the time limit.
“It will also allow more time for internal procedures to be completed, potentially decreasing the number of claims.”
Union recognition thresholds reviewed
The draft NPF plan stated: “Labour will simplify the process of union recognition and ensure reasonable access within workplaces and will strengthen rights for trade unions to organise, represent and negotiate.”
The latest one adds that Labour will also simplify the “law around statutory recognition thresholds”. The party will “review the process for statutory recognition claims, with existing thresholds presenting too high a hurdle in modern workplaces that are increasingly fragmented”.
New rules around union access to workers
It repeats the pledge of “reasonable access” for unions, but adds that it will introduce a “transparent framework and clear rules, designed in consultation with unions and business, that allow unions officials to meet, represent, recruit and organise members, provided they give appropriate notice and comply with reasonable requests of the employer, as in other models already present in successful economies.”
There is also a proviso: “We recognise it will be necessary to formally monitor these reasonable and regulated new rules, to ensure trade union officials and workplaces are complying with their responsibilities and obligations, and that rules allowing access are used proportionately and effectively.”
New redundancy protections
An added section says that Labour will “strengthen redundancy rights and protections, to protect workers’ individual and collective rights, for example by ensuring consultation rights are upheld for workers working in large organisations with smaller establishments of 20 or fewer staff.”
‘Move towards’ single worker status
Labour will “move towards a single status of worker and transition towards a simpler
two-part framework for employment status”.
The wording is the same as the draft published earlier this year, but is less definitive than the green paper which simply said Labour would “create a single status of ‘worker'”.
Support for terminally ill workers
A new section reads: “Labour encourages employers and trade unions to negotiate signing up to the Dying To Work Charter, and we will work with trade unions and others to ensure that workers diagnosed with a terminal illness are treated with respect, dignity and supported at work.”
Fair pay agreements – underpinned by unions, but not in all sectors
A section on Labour’s Fair Pay Agreement plan, which will start in adult social care, says it is about empowering workers and the trade unions that represent them to “negotiate fair pay and conditions, including staff benefits, terms and training”.
It now adds that it will be “underpinned by rights for trade unions to access workplaces, in a regulated and responsible manner, for recruitment and organising purposes”.
It also reiterates comments not in the initial New Deal but in the draft that a “Fair Pay Agreement will not be the best solution for many parts of our economy, where labour markets are operating effectively or where existing collective arrangements at employer or sector level are already working well”.
The only addition since the draft is the proviso “and are supported by trade unions”.
Defence of collective bargaining and action on blacklisting
A new section has been added defending the role of unions.
“Collective bargaining, whether in the public or private sector, at enterprise level or sectorally, makes a positive contribution to Britain’s economy and will continue to do so with the next Labour government. To achieve a stronger and fairer economy we will work with the grain of Britain’s economic traditions, with employers and trade unions,” it reads.
“We also agree with the OECD that collective bargaining can help companies and workers respond to demographic and technological change and adapt to the new world of work.”
New body to enforce rights
The previous draft highlighted plans for a “single enforcement body”, an authority tasked with enforcing workplace rights.
The final version adds details, including saying it will have union and TUC representation, and “ensure greater coordination in the face of complex enforcement challenges…
“This body will have the powers it needs to undertake targeted and proactive enforcement work and bring civil proceedings upholding employment rights. This will be done in conjunction with our plan for better laws to enforce workplace rights, as set out in the New Deal for Working People.”