Labour planning to make working from home a legal right

Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, chairs a meeting
Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, chairs a meeting

Labour will give people the legal right to work from home despite growing fears that Britain’s low productivity is undermining the economic recovery.

The policy to make flexible working the default option is included in a long list of proposals being formally considered for the party’s election manifesto which has been leaked.

The key line reads: “Make flexible working the default from day one for all workers, except where it is not reasonably feasible.”

The position was first outlined by the party in July 2021, when Angela Rayner, Labour’s Deputy Leader, said it was “not just about working from home” but also wider flexible working rights.

Other examples included flexible hours or “flexi-time”, compressed hours, staggered hours, annualised hours, and flexibility around school runs and other family and caring responsibilities.

The approach is a marked contrast with the Conservative Party’s position, with successive Tory prime ministers trying to tempt people back into the office after the Covid pandemic.

Encouraging working from home could complicate attempts to improve the UK’s productivity, which has long lagged behind other major economies and is seen as a critical factor for securing improved growth in the long term.

Leaked policy document

The policy was one of a handful of eye-catching proposals contained in a leaked 86-page “policy handbook” which has been circulated ahead of Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF).

Many of the policies in the document, the contents of which were obtained and published by the Left-leaning political website Labour List, are not new and match the party’s public stance.

But inclusion in the document, which was recently circulated to stakeholders in the party, confirms that they are being considered for the party’s next manifesto.

Steps remain before final decisions, with the NPF gathering to discuss the policies this summer and more debate coming at Labour’s party conference this autumn.

The Labour leadership and the shadow cabinet will ultimately play the decisive role in deciding which policies make the manifesto, with trade unions and the membership consulted.

Yet the document amounts to the most comprehensive articulation yet of what Sir Keir Starmer’s government would pursue if he wins the next election, which is expected in 2024.

The Labour Party did not contest the accuracy of the leaked document on Friday. A number of policies are included which may not be widely known to the electorate.

Thousands more onshore wind turbines

One line in the leaked document reads “more than double onshore wind capacity, triple solar capacity and quadruple offshore wind capacity”.

The UK has roughly 15GW of onshore wind capacity. Around 3,700 new turbines would be needed to add another 15GW, the industry body RenewableUK told The Telegraph last year.

Labour would deliver the change by scrapping the effective ban on building new onshore wind farms in England that has existed for years under the Conservatives.

Allowing more wind turbines to be built in England, as well as elsewhere in the UK, would be cheered by climate change activists who see it as quickly accessible renewable energy.

But in the past there has often been local opposition to such projects, given its impact on the natural beauty of an area, meaning the policy approach is sure to trigger debate.

No licences for new oil and gas sites

North Sea oil production - Martin Langer / Alamy Stock Photo
North Sea oil production – Martin Langer / Alamy Stock Photo

“Commit to stopping the issue of new licences for oil and gas, while managing existing oil and gas wells sustainably over the coming decades,” reads one proposed policy.

A Labour source clarified the position to The Telegraph. Labour would oppose licences for new oil and gas drilling, but not necessarily oppose new licences for existing sites.

The position is another point of difference with the current Tory Government, which has green-lit a new round of licences for oil and gas exploration.

Rishi Sunak has argued that it is nonsensical to try and hit climate change targets by immediately stopping oil and gas drilling, because that would involve importing the resource needed during the transition to cleaner energy from further afield, which has an environmental impact.

Tighten the fox hunting ban

A line in the Labour document reads: “Close loopholes in the fox hunting ban, outlaw trophy hunting (including imports from overseas) and ensure animals are treated with respect.”

The policy position was touted by the Labour Party last Boxing Day, a traditional day for hunts in Britain.

At the time the party promised to close a “loophole” in the legislation to tackle fox hunting introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 2004.

Labour would specifically outlaw “trail hunting”, which generally consists of allowing hounds to follow a scent laid down with a rag.

Labour figures have claimed the practice is used as a “smokescreen” to get around the law.
Mr Blair has said since leaving office that he regrets bringing in the fox hunting ban.

Making it easier for workers to strike

Junior doctors on the picket line during a strike in April - Tayfun Salci/Zuma Press/PA Images
Junior doctors on the picket line during a strike in April – Tayfun Salci/Zuma Press/PA Images

There are a string of policy proposals in the document, which was pulled together with input from trade unions, that show Labour wants to make it easier for unionised workers to take industrial action.

The party wants to repeal the Trade Union Act 2016, which introduced higher thresholds for how many members of a trade union had to vote for a strike for it to be legal.

Half of all union members had to vote in a ballot on strike action for it to be legal.

Furthermore in important services like health and school education 40 per cent of all members had to explicitly vote for strike action.

The policy document also talks about dropping the Tories’ push to legally require striking trade unions in critical national infrastructure areas to provide a minimum level of service during industrial action.

Another line reads “strengthen and update the rights of working people” as well as “empowering workers to organise collectively through trade unions”.

Taken together, it suggests Sir Keir’s government would heighten union powers and strip away rules that curtail their ability to launch strikes.

The approach is sure to split opinion with voters, given the UK has seen repeated waves of industrial action in the last year, including from nurses, rail workers, postiers and civil servants.

An investigation into the ‘Battle of Orgreave’

Battle of Orgreave - Photofusion/REX
Battle of Orgreave – Photofusion/REX

The Labour Party will “support a full investigation into the events at Orgreave”, a line in the policy document reads.

The so-called “Battle of Orgreave” was a violent clash between picketing miners and officers from South Yorkshire Police on June 18, 1984.

The confrontation, which saw more than 100 people injured, has become one of the most infamous clashes over striking action during Margaret Thatcher’s administration.

Labour is also proposing to “release documents held by Government relating to the historic Cammell Laird prosecutions and carry out a review into the jailing of striking workers”.

That refers to when workers from Cammell Laird in Birkenhead were sentenced to a month in prison for contempt of court in 1984 after taking part in industrial action.

Tax hikes for non-doms and private schools

A number of high-profile pledges from Sir Keir’s party to raise taxes on certain groups of wealthy individuals and institutions makes it into the policy document.

“Remove the non-domiciled tax loophole, putting in place a system for genuinely temporary residents”, reads one line, meaning rich people based abroad lose that tax break.

Labour also wants to “remove the tax loopholes that private schools enjoy”. The specifics – just losing their charitable status or scrapping wider tax breaks – remain unclear.

Executives on private enquiry firms will also lose tax breaks, with Labour vowing to close a loophole that allows them to minimise how much tax they pay on their “carried interest” in their firm’s profits.

Stamp duty will also be raised for foreign individuals, trusts and companies when they buy UK residential property.

But the document did not have wider policies about the rates of the major taxes in the UK, such as Income Tax, National Insurance and VAT.

There has been much speculation about Labour considering a form of wealth tax. No mention is made of such a move in the policy document.

However, like the whole policy pitch, new proposals are expected to be revealed between now and voting day, which Tory sources have indicated will be autumn 2024 on current planning.

Published by anthonyhayble


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