DM 2021: Trade union and employment rights

  • 22 May 2021

Conference discussed maternity rights, freelance rights, trade union recognition and home working.

The debate on trade union and employments rights started with motion 135 from the equality council. The motion was agreed and highlighted that employers are required by UK law to provide a breastfeeding mother with a place to rest, which can be the same room provided for the worker to breastfeed in or express. Women should have a private space with a lockable door that is not a toilet in which to express milk.

The UK Health and Safety Executive also recommends provision of washing facilities and a clean, secure fridge to store milk. In Ireland under section 9 of the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004, workers who are breastfeeding are entitled to take time off every day to breastfeed or pump. This applies to all women in employment who have given birth within the previous six months (26 weeks).

Many women returning to work after maternity leave will still be breastfeeding, including many freelance and low paid workers who cannot afford to take six months or more off. The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding until six months, then continued breastfeeding alongside complementary foods. The NUJ believes women should not have to choose between their babies’ health and their work. Conference agreed that the union should inform members of their maternity and breastfeeding rights, ensure that the union’s health and safety reps are aware of the new joint TUC and Maternity Action guidance, and support reps to work with employers to increase awareness of entitlements to facilities for pregnant workers and women returning from maternity leave, including freelance, contractor and casual shift workers.

Motion 136 was also agreed by conference and was proposed by the freelance industrial council. The motion noted the publication in December 2018 of the UK government’s Good Work Plan. The plan followed the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, which looked at the UK labour market, new and emerging technologies and business models, and changes in working patterns. The latter have frequently been used to undermine workers’ rights, and disproportionately affect the UK’s most vulnerable workers.

DM also noted that despite the UK government’s claims the Good Work Plan was the biggest reform of employment law in 20 years, many recommendations made by Matthew Taylor were ignored, and even with the modest changes proposed there was no draft legislation attached, nor, with minor exceptions, any dates or commitments to legislate, with only a series of further consultations.

Conference recognised that one of the main factors on which employment status will be decided by the courts remains rested on the case of Ready Mixed Concrete Limited v Minister of Pensions and National Insurance [1968] 2 QB 497 that determined an obligation to work personally with no right to send a substitute is a fundamental factor in indicating employment rather than self- employed (freelance) status.

Whilst ‘Good Work’ had nothing to say about collective bargaining, Matthew Taylor recommended, and the union endorsed at DM 2018 that there should be less emphasis placed on the requirement to perform work personally, increased clarity on employment status, changes should make employment status fairer and easier to get an early determination from the courts, the employment status presumption should be for the employer to show that a particular employment relationship does not exist, there should be simpler enforcement processes and more robust penalties, and reforms statutory sick pay. DM reaffirmed the principle that all workers should have the statutory right to be represented collectively by a trade union and instructs the NUJ to develop new ways to campaign and lobby on these issues including working with the Federation of Entertainment Unions to draft a private member’s bill to pave the way to introduce these changes in law.

Motion 137 was proposed by the Irish South West branch and was agreed. The motion highlighted that it is becoming increasingly common for companies to refuse to recognise trade unions and conference instructed the NUJ to initiate a name and shame campaign in response.

Late notice motion 8 was tabled by the Bristol branch (and covers late notice motion 3) and was the last motion to be debated in this conference session. The motion expressed concern at the move in 2021 by Reach plc to close most of their offices and make staff work most days from home. The move has a series of effects on staff in terms of costs of home working, travelling longer distances one day per week to office hubs, isolation from colleagues, stress and potential mental health problems.

The motion highlighted some of the beneficial effect of working in an office, particularly for younger workers, and the difficulty of mentoring and training when people work from home. The motion asserted that staff should as far as possible have the choice about when and how frequently they can work from home. The motion instructed the union to research the effects of increased home working and look at ways in which the union can support members affected and if necessary press for legislation as well as compensation from employers.

The Bristol branch rep who proposed the motion, Alex Morss, said:

"There are many questions that need exploring and there are many different individual's preferences about homeworking."

The motion was carried.

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