AAD: Tuesday 22 May John Hendy QC

23 May 2018

John Hendy QC set out what life at work could be like – with sectoral collective bargaining – under a Labour government. John, one of Britain's leading employment barristers, head of Old Square Chambers, and chair of the Institute of Employments Rights, was speaking at AAD in Liverpool.

He said: ‘In 2016 the IER published A Manifesto for Labour Law, which sets out how employment law could be under a progressive Labour government. Many of our proposals found their way into For the Many, Not the Few, the Labour Party manifesto at the last general election.

‘We are now trying to refine this, so there will be a programme for labour law that they can introduce at short notice when they are elected. There are two key proposals – the first is the introduction of a Ministry of Labour and the second is the reintroduction of compulsory collective bargaining – between employers and unions on an industry-wide basis.

‘You’ve got comprehensive collective bargaining and that determines pay, terms and conditions on the railway, fragmented and privatised as it is. But in other industries – such as the care sector – this is desperately needed. Because there are carers driving in their own time, in their own car, to spend 15 minutes being paid. They are not organised, there is no collective bargaining, and we need to change that.

‘Since Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 the status of 39 million working people has been degraded to the position of serfs – subservient to management. Managers have a right to manage but that doesn’t means workers are chattels. Workers have a right to have a say.

‘People in Britain now work longer than any other workers in Europe. A higher proportion in Britain are subsidised by state benefits than in any other country in Europe. This didn’t come about by accident, but by design. And one way was to alter the protection of workers in the law at work.

‘In 1979 82% of British workers were governed by a collective agreement. That is now 20%. Most workers are now at the whim of the employer, without the benefits of a collective agreement. If we are to create a new society then a key element is to reintroduce collective bargaining on an industry by industry basis. This may seem like pie in the sky but in Austria it is 98% and in Scandinavia it is well over 70% and I believe we can do these things. We need a Collective Bargaining Act.

‘It will set minimum levels for an industry. So in well-organised workplaces unions will be able to force a higher deal than the minimum. We understand the major benefits for sectoral collective bargaining. Collective bargaining leads to higher wages. But why will employers agree? Well, one good reason – higher wages increase demand in the economy and, as President Roosevelt said at the time of the New Deal, good business needs people to whom to sell its goods and services. And it prevents undercutting by the importing of cheap labour; one of the reasons that has fanned problems in certain areas of this country.

‘Collective bargaining increases the power of the worker at the workplace. And diminishes inequality in the workplace. And inequality is one of the great blots in British society today.'


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