General Election 2019: Workplace revolution as Labour unveils plans to let people set their hours

Labour is to unveil a plan that would let workers choose their own hours. Picture: John Devlin
Labour is to unveil a plan that would let workers choose their own hours. Picture: John Devlin
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Labour would let workers choose their own hours and bring about a “step change in how women are treated at work” under a package of reforms unveiled today.

Tens of thousands of mothers would benefit from increased maternity pay, and large employers will be required to create policies to support workers with the menopause under the proposed measures.

A Labour government would also create a new Workers’ Protection Agency that would work with HMRC to fine companies that fail to close the gender pay gap.

All new roles created by employers would have to be designed with the presumption that they could be worked flexibly, except where companies prove this isn’t suitable.

Unveiling the plans at an event in Motherwell today, shadow Scottish Secretary Lesley Laird will accuse the SNP government of letting progress on equal pay slip, with the gender pay gap widening from 5.8 per cent in 2018 to 7.1 per cent in 2019.

“Next Thursday is equal pay day. From that day to the end of the year women effectively do not get paid in comparison to their male workmates,” Ms Laird said. “Tinkering around the edges and warm words will do nothing to change this.”

Under Labour’s proposals, statutory maternity pay would be extended from the current nine months to the full year of statutory maternity leave.

Employers would also be made legally liable for workplace sexual harassment suffered by employees, clients and contractors. Labour’s shadow women and equalities minister Dawn Butler described it as a “workplace revolution”.

The Conservatives claimed Labour also planned to let workers set their own wages, pointing to comments in September by shadow Labour secretary Laura Pidcock, who said it was “workers, actually, who should be evaluating their pay”.

“Their reckless plans would cripple businesses across the country, leaving hardworking people to pay the price,” business secretary Andrea Leadsom said.

Yesterday both the main parties engaged in a bidding war on spending, scrapping their previous fiscal rules and promising to invest tens of billions into public services.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said Labour would spend £150bn over five years on schools, hospitals and homes, and £250bn over ten years on a Green Transformation Fund, with an “irreversible shift” of power and wealth away from London. Chancellor Sajid Javid described Labour’s plans as “fantasy economics”, but said the Tories would also borrow “some more”. He announced three new fiscal rules “for a new economic era”, which only require a balanced current account budget by the middle of the next parliament. Both said low interest rates would help fund the rise in public spending.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies said the Tories’ plans represent the highest sustained spending in the past 40 years, while Labour would take government investment from around the bottom of the international league table to near the top.