Labour has launched its general election manifesto, confirming that it will reduce hours for full-time workers to 32 hours per week (or four days) across the economy, with no loss of pay.
The party said this will be funded by increases in productivity and would be achieved by ending the opt-out provision for the EU Working Time Directive and enforcing working time regulations.
An independent Working Time Commission would also be established to advise on raising minimum holiday entitlements and reducing working time.
On freedom of movement, Labour previously passed a motion at its party conference stating that it would 'maintain and extend free movement rights'. However, the proposal outlined by the manifesto stated that migration will be 'subject to negotiations': 'If we stay in the EU, freedom of movement will continue.'
It defended free movement, adding that the party 'recognise the social and economic benefits that free movement brought both in terms of EU citizens and UK citizens abroad'.
The manifesto also gave more details on plans to create new jobs through a transition to a green economy, tackling both the need for skills development and the climate crisis.
A Foundation Industries Sector Council would provide plans for those working in industries such as steel and glass, and help them transition to green technologies. Labour said that the green industrial strategy would create one million ‘well-paid, unionised jobs of the future'.
Labour also acknowledged that the apprenticeship levy has been beset by problems and revealed plans to allocate 25% of levy accounts to training climate apprentices. The manifesto also says the party will create targeted bursaries for women, BAME individuals, care leavers, ex-armed forces personnel, and people with disabilities to encourage them to take up the apprenticeships.
Other policies in Labour's manifesto include:
- A roll-out of sectoral collective bargaining across the economy
- Strengthening protections for whistleblowers and rights against unfair dismissal for workers
- Ending 'bogus' self-employment and banning zero-hours contracts
- Ensuring public-facing workers are protected by toughening the law against abuse and violence
Andrew Willis, head of legal and advisory at Croner, said that Labour’s plans would bring significant changes to employment law. He said that employers who are concerned about the 32-hour working week should take note of plans for it to be gradually implemented over the next decade.
“It is not something that will happen overnight. Some companies have seen success in adopting a four-day working week. However, it remains to be seen if this would feasibly work across all industries or if it has limitations in certain areas,” he said.
He added that the opt out on the European Time Directive was arguably more significant: “If introduced, this would cause issues for companies whose staff do work these additional hours, although we should remember that this would be unlikely to apply across all sectors. Indeed, many industries, such as the police, currently have separate provisions on working time.”
Labour is “right to put work at the heart of its manifesto”, added Tom Hadley, director of policy and campaigns at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation. He said that plans to reform the apprenticeship levy and immigration are especially welcome.
“We welcome the proposal to broaden the apprenticeship levy, allowing more flexibility for business. We hope it will allow levy money to be spent on training temporary workers," he said.
“It is also good to see the manifesto acknowledge that the future immigration system should be based on the UK’s skills needs. Labour’s ambitious housebuilding plans, for example, will require large numbers of construction workers which the UK currently doesn’t have.”
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said a focus on skills and apprenticeships is essential. But he warned against allowing the levy to pay for other forms of training.
“In a post-Brexit Britain with more controls on inward migration, implementation of this policy will be absolutely necessary and the support for higher-level skills is another positive proposal," he said.
“Apprenticeship delivery has a key part to play in improving skills at all levels and we would be happy to work with a new government to see how reform of the levy can make a real difference. However we have repeatedly said […] allowing the levy to pay for other forms of training would be premature, especially when current demand for apprenticeships by employers means that the levy is now being overspent."
Find out what the Lib Dem manifesto means for HR. Check back next week for coverage of the Conservative party manifesto