It’s the final Friday of the month which means one thing, no not payday, our monthly employment law update. Last month we had features on Boris Johnson, Emma Watson’s sexual harassment helpline and an international footballer who was sacked for bunking off training. Meanwhile, last week’s case law update concerned vegetarianism and philosophical belief discrimination.

This month’s features include another current affairs feature, some PJH Law news, some tax news concerning IR35 and a double header of silly employment news.

The behaviour of politicians and civil servants often dominates our current affairs features, often for the wrong reasons. This month, our current affairs feature is slightly less cynical and instead examines some of the employment-related policies proposed by the Labour party during the conference this month. (Although the attempting ousting of Tom Watson would also make a good feature!)

This month saw Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn announce the party’s plans to shake up employment rights if Labour win the next election. The proposed policies were announced at the party conference in Brighton and included:

  • Raise the national minimum wage to £10 per hour and have this single rate applicable to any employee aged 16 or over.
  • Introducing a separate government department for employment protection. This department would inspect workplaces reported of poor practices and impose civil penalties. The minister for this department would also attend cabinet meetings.
  • Ban on unpaid internships and zero hours contracts.
  • Introduce civil enforcement measures to enforce gender pay gap reporting.
  • Introduce flexible working for menopausal employees for employers with more than 250 staff
  • Create a single employment status of worker for anyone who isn’t self-employed.
  • End the Swedish derogation which allows companies to pay agency staff less than employees.
  • Cut the average week from 37 to 32 hours (four day working week) through increased holiday entitlement and better collective bargaining as opposed to a blanket cap on hours.
  • Make childcare free for all users to increase employment opportunities for single-income households.

Some of these polices will raise eyebrows but lets examine a few of them in detail.

Firstly the uniform minimum wage changes. Most employers would argue that more experienced staff (usually older) staff are entitled to more pay as their experience makes them more productive and better at their job. In principle this is true, for example a solicitor with 15 years practising experience will probably be more knowledgeable and productive than a trainee.

However, many jobs where experience makes a significant difference to productivity and performance are not minimum wage jobs. For example, factory production lines, checkouts, cleaning and waiting tables can easily be done by a 16-18-year-old as well as someone who is 25+. Users of supermarket tills may even argue that younger staff are more efficient than older ones!

Gender related equal pay is based on the maxim that equal work should mean equal pay. Given all ages perform the same work to a similar standard you can see the logic behind this policy. Indeed, many supermarkets already pay all staff a blanket rate regardless of age.

Giving the gender pay gap reporting regulations some teeth is long overdue. The aim of the regs seems to be embarrassing firms into addressing the gap rather than making them do so. The carrot method has proved somewhat successful as the changes at PwC and many other firms have shown. However, sometimes the stick is needed to ensure that stubborn companies remove their pay gaps.

On the subject of pay gaps, the reason many women often earn less than men is due to childcare. Typically it is often women who are lumbered with the lion’s share of the childcare even in two parent working households. In lower income households it often isn’t prudent for a child to be in childcare as the cost of the childcare negates the money earned. A policy such as this could tackle the societal gender pay gap.

Simplifying employment status, which just about everyone is sick of reading about by now, is something many would agree with. However, removing the difference between workers and employees may prove too burdensome for employers.

Finally, whilst some companies use zero-hours contracts as a means to exploit the system. Many employers and employees find zero hours contracts beneficial due to the flexibility of hours. This is particularly true for those with other primary commitments such as education or childcare. Others use them as a second job to make extra money.

However, given the other policies above to increase the minimum wage and to eliminate childcare costs, perhaps zero hours contracts would be obsolete as many prospective employees would not find them attractive as less flexibility would be required for the employee.