Blog: REC reports from Labour Conference

Continuing the series of Recruitment and Employment Confederation blogs from this year’s major political party conferences - Sophie Wingfield, a senior public affairs consultant at the REC, reports from the Labour Party conference in Brighton.

The importance of work to a person’s wellbeing, meaningful careers, the future of work, employment rights and the robot tax were just some of the pressing issues highlighted at this week’s Labour Party conference.

One of the REC’s big set pieces was our director of policy, Tom Hadley, speaking on modern working practices alongside the Shadow Business Secretary and trade union leaders at the New Statesman fringe event. There were plenty of areas of disagreement but also some common ground with opportunities to work together – including on the recognition of how important work is to people’s lives and wellbeing.

Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long Bailey talked up the need to be a ‘progression nation,’ which was a great hook for promoting the role of our industry in helping people get a job, then get a better job.

For instance, in terms of common ground, progression is at the heart of our campaign to make the apprenticeship levy into a more flexible training levy that agencies can use for the workers on their books.

Work, skills and the future of work were important themes throughout the week at fringe events and on the conference floor. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady argued for “a regulatory framework that reflects the changing world of work", which was the core driver of the Matthew Taylor review. We agree with the need for a level playing field and used this high-profile fringe session to underline the positive role of compliant agencies to the UK economy. 

Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party, pledged in his conference speech to extend employment rights to all workers. At the REC we welcome moves that would provide more protections for gig workers and the self-employed – but it is wrong to group agency workers in the same category. Unlike for gig workers, and the self-employed, all agency workers are already entitled to holiday pay, statutory sick pay, maternity and paternity pay, and written terms and conditions. This highlights the need for the industry to continue to challenge these misconceptions and raise awareness of existing rights and regulations

Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to deal with the challenges of automation, dubbed the ‘robot tax’, received plenty of interest. It is important for all political parties to think ahead as to what big changes to the world of work might mean for individuals and for society as a whole - this has been a big theme of our Future of Jobs commission. Focus must be on ensuring that we build the UK skills base so that individuals can benefit from the changes and can make career transitions when needed.

At the business reception, Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell spoke about their desire to engage and work with businesses as they continue to develop their policies. We look forward to taking them up on this – it is important they hear the thoughts of industry to ensure their policies are based on reality and would work in practice.    

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