A Labour government will establish a Ministry of Employment Rights. The department will be responsible for transforming our workplaces by delivering a huge roll out of individual and collective rights at work and legislating for enforcement powers to make these rights meaningful.
It will establish a national joint advisory council for representatives of government, employers, unions and experts to meet and advise. Above all, this will mean that the voice of working people will be heard at the cabinet table, exactly as it should be.
The beating heart of this department will be the roll out of sectoral collective bargaining. Now, I realise that this concept may be familiar to people in this room, but people outside of this room may be wondering what on earth I’m talking about, and I don’t blame them. Because the percentage of workers covered by collective agreements has dwindled rapidly over the last 40 years.
Our Labour government will re-establish national collective bargaining between trade unions and employers in each sector of our economy. That was the British way for most of the twentieth century and it still is the way that the successful economies of Northern Europe manage their industrial relations.
Sector-wide collective bargaining will set minimum and legally binding pay, terms and conditions for every employer and every worker in the sector.
In practice it means that rather than the employer having all the power to determine what your conditions and pay are at work, they will be legally obliged to enter into negotiation with your trade union – a giant step forward in rebalancing the unequal power relations that exist between worker and employer.
Imagine the transformative impact that would have on, say, the care sector, where the mostly female workforce has seen this highly skilled and professional area of work become a minimum wage job, where care workers are not paid for travel time between visits and can end up working 10 hours for five hours pay. What a scandalous state of affairs that the very people looking after some of the most poorly and vulnerable people in the country are being paid less that the minimum wage. And think of the effect on those in their care. Well, we are calling time on this kind of exploitative practice.
Because under a Labour government, those care sector employers would be legally obliged to come to the table and negotiate all aspects of the industry, the conditions in workplaces and, fundamentally, their pay. So, whether you are a care home worker from Dundee or Durham, you would be secure in the knowledge that minimum terms and conditions negotiated for the sector will restore dignity and a decent life to you and those you look after.