Labour would legislate to make flexible working the default – including working from home or around the school-run – so that “work fits around people’s lives instead of dictating their lives”, Angela Rayner has announced.
Employees already have the right to request flexible hours, but Labour says it would widen the definition of flexible working and give employers a legal responsibility to accommodate it unless they can show it is not workable.
Rayner said as well as flexible hours, such as four-day weeks, the new duty on employers would cover compressed hours and flexibility around caring duties, including taking children to school or caring for them during school holidays.
“Labour will make flexible working a force for good so that everyone is able to enjoy the benefits of flexible working, from a better work-life balance to less time commuting and more time with their family,” Rayner said.
“The new normal after this pandemic must mean a new deal for all working people based on flexibility, security and strengthened rights at work,” she added.
Many white collar workers have been able to work from home during the pandemic, but Labour would like to see more flexibility extended to staff in other jobs.
Rayner is also calling for an end to “one-sided flexibility”, where employers are able to dictate hours to staff at very short notice. She said all employees should have predictable working hours and shift patterns so they can plan their lives.
The new policy is the latest element of Labour’s “new deal for working people” campaign, as Keir Starmer seeks to switch the focus from tackling the government over the pandemic, to bread-and-butter issues.
Over the summer, the party also hopes to focus on crime, where Labour believes the government is vulnerable despite the prime minister announcing a new strategy this week.
Party strategists have been encouraged by a recent narrowing in the Conservatives’ poll lead. A Survation poll conducted last week put Boris Johnson’s party on 39% with Labour just two percentage points behind, suggesting the “vaccine bounce” may have faded.
The Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto promised to make flexible working the default but the government has not yet brought forward any formal proposal to do so.
Rayner secured the title of shadow secretary of state for the future of work in May’s reshuffle, and has been working alongside frontbench colleague Andy McDonald, to draw up a list of pro-worker reforms, backed by trade unions.
In an article on LabourList on Tuesday, McDonald said Labour was committed to repealing anti-union legislation, while Rayner is pressing for unions to be allowed access to all workers, including home workers.
The pro-worker measures are helping to assuage the concerns of some Labour members who feared Starmer was preparing to lurch to the right politically.
Leftwing Labour campaign group Momentum welcomed a separate announcement earlier this week that the party would create a single class of employees, with full rights at work from day one.