Raising the national minimum wage was high on the agenda at the Labour Party conference, which finished earlier this week. Other policy commitments included increasing the supply of apprenticeships and reforming the tribunal system.
In his speech, Labour leader Ed Miliband announced six national goals, the first of which was halving the number of people on low pay by 2025. As part of that strategy, Labour has committed to raising the national minimum wage to £8 per hour by 2020. It is unclear exactly how this policy will be delivered, given that the Low Pay Commission was set up by the last Labour government as an independent body.
The labour market was also addressed in Labour’s fourth national goal, which is that “by 2025 as many young people will be leaving school or college to go on to an apprenticeship as currently go to university.” Miliband said Labour would use both immigration policy and public procurement as levers to persuade businesses to increase the supply of new apprenticeships.
The Labour leader’s speech made no mention of the controversial issue of employment tribunal fees. This did however get an oblique mention in the speech of Chuka Umunna, who shadows Vince Cable’s role as secretary of state at the department of Business, Innovation and Skills. He said that Labour would “reform the tribunal system so affordability is not a barrier to justice”. Presumably this rather vague promise will be unpacked in the months to come, but it does seem to entail some changes to the fees system introduced last year, though perhaps not its outright abolition.
Umunna’s speech also mentioned that “exploitative” zero hours contracts would be banned. The detail is spelled out on the Labour party’s website, and includes a promise that employees who have consistently worked regular hours will receive a fixed-hours contract automatically. While this would go considerably further than the limited measures currently contained in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, there is little evidence at present that a more general re-balancing of employment rights is being planned if Labour forms the next government.