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Work Foundation - What does the Labour Party’s new deal campaign mean for working people?

With insecure work having increased over recent years, the nature of work and the delivery of ‘good work’ is shaping up to be a key political battleground, one that will undoubtedly be contested up to the next general election. This week, the Labour Party has launched a New Deal for Working People campaign in its first major policy announcement following the last election.

That the current Labour leadership’s first proposals are set to focus on work, is significant but not entirely surprising. Angela Rayner’s recent promotion to Shadow Chancellor of the Dutchy of Lancaster also included a new brief as Shadow Secretary for the Future of Work, perhaps indicating this will be a key focus area for the party’s emerging agenda.

While at time of writing we await the full details of the plan, Keir Starmer set out the key themes that it will be based on: security at work, quality jobs, a fairer economy, opportunity for all and fair pay.

The new offer for workers will include provisions for:

  • An increase to the minimum wage, to a minimum of £10 per hour, a guarantee of work or training for young people
  • The creation of a single ‘worker’ status that would extend key rights to all workers, abolishing dubious self-employment statuses, prevalent in the ‘gig economy’ (with genuinely self-employed workers retaining some different conditions)
  • This will effectively ensure all workers full employment rights for new workers from day one (e.g. the ability to request a flexible working pattern, a benefit that is often reserved for staff that have been in post for a longer period), as well as universal access to statutory sick pay and paid parental leave
  • A ban on fire and rehire practices
  • Plans to leverage public procurement to support job opportunities through a ‘buy British’ approach

An increase to the minimum wage and the plan’s focus on embedding flexible rights for all workers are welcome. The latter would not only represent a step towards increased fairness, but, with the pandemic resulting in a large-scale shift towards homeworking, it would also reflect new realities in the world of work. New legislation on workers’ rights is now needed to update worker rights in this new context. This development of a new pitch to workers could be a promising strategy for the Labour Party. In many respects, the pandemic has compounded levels of worker insecurity, already high before its onset. Lacking access to statutory sick pay and large scale lay-offs due to economic uncertainty caused by have pandemic have placed further strain on the many workers experiencing insecurity. Research by the TUC found that working conditions and exploitative working practices associated with agency have worsened through the pandemic, and 67% of insecure workers report that they receive no sick pay when they are forced to take time off. 

Job insecurity can negatively affect workers’ mental wellbeing. Work Foundation analysis published in December last year found that workers who were already ‘finding it very difficult to get by’ before the crisis have experienced a greater negative impact on their mental wellbeing due to the pandemic. There is also a danger that workers in insecure jobs may feel pressured into continuing to work despite having Covid-19 symptoms, resulting in further stress. This dynamic has been particularly acute in recent weeks, during the ‘pingdemic’, with substantial numbers of workers being asked to self-isolate.

With the basis of Labour’s policy position on workers’ rights set out in their new deal for workers campaign, the next step for the leadership will be to develop practical proposals that could be built in to legislation. It will also be important for Labour to develop their offer to workers in a way that engages with some of the big labour market shifts on the horizon, including the impact of technology on jobs, the implications of an ageing workforce, the net-zero transition and the longer-term effects of Brexit. These shifts will create jobs requiring new skills. Workers will need support to engage with training and development in order to access emergent opportunities. Funding to facilitate this, and potentially rights that secure access to upskilling, should form part of Labour’s overall offer.

Linking the campaign to a broader economic strategy, and developing a plan to facilitate access to new labour market opportunities, for all workers, will also be important as the party goes forward - alongside plans to address worker insecurity. The forthcoming Employment Bill, and the Comprehensive Spending Review, will provide the Labour Party with opportunities to further develop and articulate their messaging for workers. 

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