Labour warns of ‘two-tier world of work’ without strengthened protections

The right to flexible and remote working should be enshrined in law, Labour has said, as it was feared a “two-tier world of work” would become further entrenched after the pandemic.

Labour claims that analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that while chief executives and those living in London are most likely to be able to work from home, young people, keyworkers and those who live in the north of England are losing out.

The party said the Government had promised to protect workers’ rights in the Employment Bill in 2019, but that this had failed to materialise.

And it comes as Labour called for better investment in further education to plug gaps in industries such as health and care.

Labour’s analysis found that 35% of workers in London were able to work from home during the pandemic, compared to 19.5% in the North East.

While 10.5% in London and the South East said they mainly worked from home, compared to 6% in the North East and 6.7% in the Midlands.

Just 4.1% of 20-24 years olds and 6.5% of 25-29 years olds mainly work from home, compared to 8.3% of those aged over 35, 9.4% of those over 40, and 9.6% of those over 45.

And the party said 21.4% of chief executives mainly worked from home, with 69% able to do so during the pandemic.

Labour’s shadow employment rights and protections secretary Andy McDonald said: “The pandemic has lifted the lid on our country’s two-tier world of work. This risks becoming more entrenched without employment law fit for the 21st century.”

He added: “We desperately need legislation that keeps pace with our changing world of work, with stronger rights for people to work flexibly where possible. The Conservatives promised it – they’ve got to deliver.”

Keir Starmer visits London School
Shadow education secretary Kate Green, who will address the World Skills Conference in Dudley (Stefan Rousseau/PA Images)

Shadow education secretary Kate Green is expected to highlight a rise in vacancies in key industries – where employees are less likely to be able to take advantage of home working – in a speech at the World Skills Conference in Dudley on Wednesday.

She will say that while there were 133,000 vacancies in health and social care between February and April this year, according to the ONS, Labour analysis showed the overall number of students studying the area had fallen by 153,000 in the past three years.

The information and the communication industries had 41,000 vacancies, Labour said, while student numbers fell by 52,000.

Ms Green said: “The Conservatives’ failures on education are translating into serious skills shortages for across our public services and economy: as vacancies within crucial services such as NHS and social care have risen, student numbers have declined.

“The Government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee and apprenticeships incentive are compounding this failure, excluding millions of jobs and failing to create the opportunities our country needs.

“Labour is calling for ministers to put skills and further education at the heart of our pandemic recovery with an apprenticeship wage subsidy and jobs promise to give opportunities to every young person.”