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UK Labour Party Plans ‘right to Switch Off’ for Exhausted Workers

Bosses will be restricted from contacting their staff by phone, WhatsApp or email outside working hours under a Labour government, according to plans expected to be in the party’s general election manifesto.

The proposal by deputy leader Angela Rayner, who is also shadow secretary of state for the future of work, comes as many workers are deluged by messages during their evenings, weekends and holidays. She told the Financial Times that “constant emails and calls outside of work should not be the norm and is harming work-life balance for many”. Rayner acknowledged there would be times where contact is needed, such as with workers who are on call or those who are working overtime: “We will look at how to implement this in practice, learnings from countries where it has been introduced successfully,” she said.

The so-called “right to switch off” would echo legislation in France, where since 2017 all staff have had the right to disconnect from phones and laptops outside working hours. In 2018 a worker at the French arm of Rentokil, the British pest control company, received €60,000 after the company failed to respect his right to disconnect. Other countries, including Italy, Spain and Portugal, have followed France’s example. Belgium last month started requiring all employers with more than 20 staff to introduce a company policy, while the Scottish government has agreed to a similar arrangement with unions representing civil servants. However, legislation will not necessarily help those who feel under pressure to log on outside of working hours to hit deadlines.

Jon Boys, an economist at the CIPD body for HR professionals, said the employees most often expected to work out of hours tended to be the “more privileged” and highly skilled, for whom it was “one of the trade-offs they make when they take those more senior positions”.  Labour’s policies have come under increasing scrutiny since the party took the lead in opinion polls ahead of a general election expected next year. The policies are part of a broader package of employment reforms, dubbed a “New Deal for Working People”, giving workers greater rights. One of the biggest changes would be a ban on controversial “zero-hours contracts” while also outlawing the practice of “fire and rehire”, where companies make an employee redundant and then re-engage them on worse terms and conditions.

Other proposals include providing flexible working where there is no reason a job cannot be done with varying hours or remotely. The Conservative party promised to make flexible working the “default” in its 2019 manifesto but has shelved that proposal. Instead, it is using secondary legislation to give workers the “right to request” flexible working. The Institute of Directors said that it welcomed the government’s plan to give the workers the “right to request” flexible working, but it acknowledged that enforcing flexible working would be “problematic” for some employers.

Labour would also grant sick pay and holiday rights from the first day of employment and give workers protection against unfair dismissal. At present, employees can usually only challenge a dismissal if they have been with their employer for two years, and the lowest earners do not qualify for statutory sick pay.

Labour would also give workers the right to negotiate “fair pay agreements” through sectoral collective bargaining. This is a critical demand of unions, although similar arrangements introduced recently in Australia and New Zealand were opposed by business groups. The New Deal for Working People is part of a draft manifesto, most of which will be signed off over the summer by the party’s “national policy forum”.

Source : Financial Times