Revealed: Starmer’s plan to hand power to unions – copied from Corbyn’s manifesto

A graphic showing Jeremy Corbyn inside Kier Starmer
A graphic showing Jeremy Corbyn inside Kier Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer will rehash Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to hand power to the unions by copying policies from his infamous 2017 manifesto, Labour documents show.

The Labour leader has quietly published plans to give trade unions a stranglehold on workplaces in a move that economists say will cost jobs, especially among the young.

Sir Keir intends to scrap the law that ensures minimum service levels on railways, in schools and in hospitals during strikes. It means unions will once again be able to bring the country to a halt with crippling walkouts.

He will make it easier for unions to carry out strike ballots – just as Mr Corbyn proposed – and will hammer small businesses by giving workers full rights from day one, hiking the minimum wage and banning unpaid internships.

Other policies that are almost identical to those proposed by Mr Corbyn include a near-total ban on zero-hours contracts, a new body to police equal pay and a more generous parental leave regime.

Back to the 1970s

In some respects Sir Keir’s plan – contained in a document called Labour’s Plan to Make Work Pay – goes even further than the 2017 manifesto, which at the time was described by critics as Mr Corbyn’s plan to take Britain back to the 1970s.

The 24-page dossier, slipped out two days after Rishi Sunak called the surprise general election, promises a “right to switch off”, so that employers will not be able to contact their staff out of hours.

It also promises an “enforcement body to enforce workers’ rights”, with trade union and TUC representation, which will have powers to inspect workplaces and take employers to court.

The fact that the document was published after the election was called suggests that it will form part of Labour’s election manifesto, due out next week.

Economists expressed surprise that, given the UK economy’s many problems, Labour has chosen to focus so much regulatory effort on one of the country’s undoubted bright spots: jobs.

Employment among under-65s has risen from a high of 73.2 per cent under New Labour to 74.5 per cent today, while unemployment has fallen from above 5 per cent in 2007 to just above 4 per cent today. The number of people in employment currently is at a record high.

‘No ideas of his own’

Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, said: “Keir Starmer is just rehashing old Corbyn policies, because he hasn’t got any ideas of his own or even a plan.

“These proposals would hammer our small businesses. Starmer claims Labour have changed but they haven’t.

“I have spent the last two years as business secretary fighting the unions and their bad policies. Labour will always put the demands of these trade unions over the needs of our entrepreneurs and business owners.

“On tax, on business, you cannot trust the policies of Keir Starmer.”

Sir Keir has previously said that the 2017 manifesto was Labour’s “foundational document”, praised its “radicalism” and said: “We have to hang on to that as we go forward.”

He subsequently expelled Mr Corbyn from the Labour Party in a row over anti-Semitism, but has never abandoned his determination to hand more power to Labour’s trade union backers.

‘Socialist self-management’

In an article for Socialist Lawyer magazine in 1987, Sir Keir wrote: “Unions could aspire to a role of socialist self-management, whereby the authority of managerial prerogative and the interests of capital would be challenged and rejected, being replaced by a unionism following the model of workers’ cooperatives, controlling the mode of production.

“[In this model] there are no managers…unions would constitute agencies responsible for the administration of industry and to the wider society.”

Tom Baldwin, a former Labour adviser and biographer of Sir Keir, said: “There are lots of business people who think that Starmer will be just like Tony Blair. He won’t be.

“Blair was a free-market globalist. Starmer will take an approach that is far closer to Joe Biden’s and some social democratic leaders in Europe. He will be far more interventionist than Blair.”

The document says Labour will “remove unnecessary restrictions on trade union activity” and will “end the Conservatives’ scorched-earth approach to industrial relations”.

Repeal the minimum service act

Labour will repeal the Trade Union Act 2016, the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 and the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

The minimum service levels legislation, passed by the Conservatives last year, gave employers such as schools and railway companies legal powers to issue a work notice to unions specifying the workforce needed to meet minimum service levels during a strike.

It has helped to keep train services running and applies to health services, education, fire and rescue services, nuclear installations and border security.

On proposed strike action, Labour will also “remove the antiquated rule that means that unions must show that at least 50 per cent of workers are likely to support their claim before the process has even begun” and will introduce electronic balloting of members.

There will be a new duty for employers to inform all new employees of their right to join a union.

When Sir Keir launched his Labour leadership campaign in 2020 he said “we walk with the trade unions” and released a video highlighting his support for the unions during the print workers’ strike at Wapping in the 1980s and for the National Union of Mineworkers in the 1990s.

‘It’s just naive’

Ryan Bourne, an economist at the Cato Institute in Washington DC, said: “Higher pay, more security, and greater flexibility are all things workers want, it’s just naive to assume you can mandate them without consequence.

“The European experience with more employment protection, restrictions on firing, and more powerful trade unions is higher unemployment, especially for the young.

“The US and Britain have more lightly regulated labour markets than Europe. These not only help promote employment, but give firms more margins to adapt to things like minimum wage hikes.

“Smother these options through more employment protection and new ‘rights’ and wage floors will start costing jobs.”

An employment law specialist at Willans solicitors said: “Labour’s proposals for employment law reform are rather substantial, and could have significant legal and practical implications.

“[Day one rights] is perhaps the most significant change proposed by Labour, because, if the qualifying period for unfair dismissal rights is removed, it will dramatically impact the way in which employers can tackle dismissals of short-term employees and alter the way tribunal claims are approached.”

‘Sources of concern’ for business

Alexandra Hall-Chen, the principal policy advisor for employment and skills at the Institute of Directors, said the IoD had been consulted by Labour over its plans and while “there is support for some of the areas of reform, others remain sources of concern for the business community”.

Ms Hall-Chen added: “Much of the potential impact of the package will not become clear until the individual policies are fleshed out in the event of a Labour government.”

Jane Gratton, deputy director of public policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “These are important issues so it’s crucial that the voice of business continues to be heard, and Labour are in listening mode.

“Our members wholeheartedly recognise that their employees deserve high standards of protection. However, any changes to legislation, must be consulted on and must be proportionate.

“Firms must be given adequate time to prepare for any changes and guard against any unintended consequences.”

A close eye on Labour plans

One business lobbyist said: “We’re keeping a very close eye on Labour’s plans to repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 and the Minimum Service Levels Bill.

“What we really don’t want is for any new government to be tearing up tons of legislation that needs to be slowly backfilled with case law over time.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “After 14 years of Tory failure, which has cost business and workers dearly, this changed Labour Party will make work pay.

“Our pro-business, pro-worker agenda will boost productivity, help grow the economy, and level the playing field for business – helping to raise living standards for Telegraph readers across the country.”

Trade union powers

Trade union access to workplaces

Strike ballots

Union representation

Day one rights

Zero hours contracts

Minimum wage

Unpaid internships

Enforced equal pay