Blacklisting and unions: Labour’s plans for the construction workforce


For the first time in 14 years a Labour Party prime minister will preside in 10 Downing Street.

Keir Starmer forming a new government today (5 July) after winning a majority of 172 seats.

The party is expected to boost worker rights and union powers as part of forthcoming labour reforms. Here Construction News reevaluates its key pledges on workforce protection.

Blacklisting

Labour has pledged to tackle blacklisting in all its shapes and forms. It is 15 years since staff from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) raided and then closed the Consulting Association, a secretive business that compiled a list of more than 3,000 “troublesome” construction workers – most of whom were union members.

For a fee it shared those names with many of the biggest construction sector players.

But there are concerns blacklisting could still be going on. The Labour Party said regulations on blacklisting now need updating to “account for new technologies and ways of storing data”.

“The next Labour government will update regulations to outlaw the use of predictive technologies for blacklisting and safeguard against singling out workers for mistreatment or the sack without any evidence of human interaction,” the party said in its Plan to Make Work Pay, which it committed to in the election manifesto.

Labour also said it would give the ICO and employment tribunals the power to seize and destruct any lists to prevent blacklisting in the future.

Meanwhile, it promised to close a loophole in legislation that it says allows employers to bypass laws by subcontracting.

Union access

While trade unions do have access to many construction sites, they do not automatically get access to all construction sites. That can leave some major sites without union representation – union Unite has claimed to have been disallowed on major infrastructure and stadium projects in recent years.

In its Plan to Make Work Pay document, Labour committed to ensuring “reasonable access within workplaces” by developing a new framework with unions and businesses.

“[The framework] will allow union officials to meet, represent, recruit and organise members, provided they give appropriate notice and comply with reasonable requests of the employer, as in other models already present in successful economies,” Labour said.

Labour said authorities need to “monitor” the arrangement to make sure both the unions and businesses are keeping to their commitments.

Pay gaps

Businesses currently need to report the gender pay gap, but women still earn, on average, three quarters of a man’s hourly wage.

Under Labour, firms with more than 250 staff will need to develop “action plans” to close their gender pay gaps. The action plans will need to be published online.

Labour also said it would “ensure” outsourced workers are included in the gender pay gap reporting.

The party also committed to expanding the pay gap data to ethnicity and disability, meaning any firms with more than 250 staff will need to publish this information too.

“[That] is a common-sense way to begin the process of tackling these glaring inequalities,” Labour said.

Employment tribunals

Workers from all sectors are entitled to take their bosses or firms to an employment tribunal in disputes over pay, time off, discrimination or unlawful redundancy.

But Labour said the tribunal system is “arbitrarily restricted by arcane rules” on when claimants can start their proceedings.

Currently, employees can only make an employment claim within three months. Labour has pledged to double that to six months, mirroring a set of recommendations published in April 2020 by the Law Commission, an independent body tasked with reviewing the legal system in England and Wales.

That change would bring all employment tribunal claims in line with claims around statutory redundancy and equal pay, which can already be brought within six months.

Labour argued the change would particularly support anyone claiming pregnancy discrimination, as highlighted by the Law Commission.

“Evidence suggests women struggle to make funds available to lodge claims within the time limit,” Labour said, while the commission gathered evidence showing women with newborns, or in the later stages of pregnancy, are forced to seek legal action “during a very vulnerable period of their life”.

Labour also pledged to make it unlawful to dismiss a woman returning to work from pregnancy for six months, except in specific circumstances. It did not expand on those circumstances.

Procurement

Labour has committed to making social value “mandatory in contract design”, via a National Procurement Plan.

Public procurement under the Labour government will consider social value as a metric, including pay, conditions, and trade union access. Bids that promise to create local jobs and skills, or to meet high environmental standards, will also be considered as high in social value metrics.

“This will drive up employment standards across the economy and strengthen supply chains, so these standards are upheld throughout the whole chain of the contract,” Labour said.

Other key pledges

Labour has also pledged to ban “exploitative” zero hour contracts, which are often used in the construction sector as a way to manage changes in demand for work.

The party also pledged to create a “right to bereavement leave”, which will allow all workers a period of leave after the loss of a loved one.

But Labour’s election victory prompted the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) to call for further action from the new government.

“Our outdated employment laws mean that whilst bogus self-employment impacts vulnerable workers, other genuinely self-employed people face an uphill struggle to prove that they’re ‘in business’,” said IPSE policy director Andy Chamberlain.

“Like him, we’re eager for this work to start within the first 100 days of his government, and we look forward to working with the new government to help get this legislation right. By overhauling our employment rules, the Prime Minister could make or break the fortunes of the self-employed sector.”



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