A new Labour government has committed itself to protecting people at work. We look at what that means

The UK is going to the polls on Thursday, July 4 in what is projected to be a landslide victory for the opposition Labour Party and likely a defining election. Changes are anticipated in many sectors and that includes workplace’s health and safety regulations.

Not least because Labour has released its Plan to Make Work Pay: Delivering A New Deal for Working People. In it, the party says it wants to support working people by improving their terms and conditions and ensuring protections at work. They contend that the Conservative party failed in these efforts and they plan – if they win – to deliver the “biggest upgrade to rights at work for a generation.”

The current failings at the HSE

Years of underfunding, overwork and underpay at Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Britain’s workplace safety regulator, has created a situation of reduced staff and resources that many believe threatens the agency’s ability to keep people safe at work.

Since 2010, HSE’s core grant-in-aid funding has been slashed from £228 million in 2010 down to £126 million in 2019. It rose to £185 million in 2022, but never returned to its previous levels.

The result was deep staff cuts, a reduction in the number of inspections and a major decline in salaries leading to a recruitment and retention crisis within HSE.

Recent data indicates an increase in deaths at work, with mandatory investigations missing in at least half of all cases after a fatality or serious injury. Many organisations handle this on their own. 

Current health and safety laws

Current health and safety regulations are based on the Health and Safety at Work Act from 1974 that set out the framework for managing workplace health and safety in the UK. Additional health safety and welfare regulations were passed in 1992 that requires employers to provide a workplace that is safe and suitable for all work activities.Display Screen Equipment Regulations (DSE) were passed in 1992 (and amended in 2002). In 1999, the Management of Health and Safety Regulations was passed that states what employers are required to do to manage health and safety under the Health and Safety at Work Act. In 2013, the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) was passed that stated that certain cases of workplace injuries, illnesses or incidents must be reported.

Failure to comply with health and safety law can incur both civil and criminal penalties. As an employer, if someone has an accident at work or is made ill, a health and safety regulator can prosecute you for a criminal offence, and / or the person who was injured or made ill can make a civil claim for damages. No one has to be harmed for a health and safety offence to occur. The risk of harm is enough for an offence.

Labour will seek increased health and safety protections for workers

The Labour Party has discussed increased statutory protections for workers at high risk of breathing in polluted air, and they plan to pass a Clean Air Act and write standards for safer air developed by the WHO. Labour has also pledged to bring in new rights for workers, protections and access to training, and go after wage theft. Employees will have legal health and safety protections against extreme temperatures, and there will be a single enforcement body for workers.

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour party, has spoken about increased enforcement and new legal protections to protect people at work if Labour ends up at Number 10 after the next election. She said a Labour government would bring forward an employment rights bill within 100 days of entering office. “That’s a cast-iron commitment, not only because this will be good for working people, and good for our wider economy, but because our fair work agenda will be key to how we bring opportunity to every corner of this country,” she stated.

Specifically, the “New Deal” includes:

  • All workers, regardless of sector, wage, or contract type, will have the same basic rights and protections including sick pay, parental leave, and protection against unfair dismissal without the need for a qualifying period of service.
  • Unfair dismissal protections will be expanded by removing the qualifying period, the statutory caps which limit compensation and extending the limitation periods in which employees can bring a claim.
  • Statutory sick pay will be increased and will be available to all workers.
  • Zero hours contracts and contracts without a minimum number of guaranteed hours will be banned. 
  • A new right for workers to disconnect from work outside of working hours and not be contacted by their employer outside of working hours.  
  • New rights to protect workers from remote surveillance.
  • Time periods for bringing claims at Employment Tribunals will be extended. 
  • Tougher penalties for those who break the law or fail to comply with tribunal orders, including personal liability for those that were directors of companies at the time.
  • Trade union legislation will be updated and restrictions on trade union activity will be removed.
  • Stronger family-friendly rights will be implemented by extending statutory maternity and paternity leave and introducing the right to bereavement leave. 
  • Protections for pregnant women will be strengthened.
  • Employers will be required to create and maintain workplaces and working conditions free from harassment, including by third parties.

Labour’s very high profile commitments to protecting people at work makes it seem likely that should they win on July 4, organisations will be dealing with significantly stronger health and safety regulations.

Compliance and the UK General Election – Special Webinar

Every sector could be impacted and every area of compliance is likely to be reviewed by the next government. From overhauls of financial services regulation, reviews of data protection law, closer alignment with EU regulations and an expansion of health and safety protections, the next parliament will see compliance at the centre of the regulatory agenda.

With everything from whistleblowing reform to overhauls of corporate governance, new employment rights like menopause leave and expanded equal pay rules, alongside crackdowns on tax evasion and expansion of the money laundering regulations, organisations large and small should prepare for the outcome of the general election.

This webinar will cover:

  • What the main parties are pledging on key compliance areas
  • Potential changes to legislation including the Equality Act, sexual harassment and employment rights
  • Expected legislation on AML, bribery, sanctions, fraud and economic crime
  • Possible expansion of regulations around GDPR, AI and health and safety
  • Preparing your organisation for future regulatory changes and new requirements