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Labour and the retail sector: Actions and priorities for the first 100 days

As the retail sector eagerly anticipates the actions of the newly-elected Labour government, Charlotte Rees-John, Head of the Retail, Leisure & Hospitality Sector at Irwin Mitchell,… View Article

COMMENTARY

Labour and the retail sector: Actions and priorities for the first 100 days

As the retail sector eagerly anticipates the actions of the newly-elected Labour government, Charlotte Rees-John, Head of the Retail, Leisure & Hospitality Sector at Irwin Mitchell, highlights some of the areas relating to employment law that demand immediate attention from both Westminster and businesses operating in the sector.

Navigating Employment Law Waters

It’s vital that the new Labour government engages with businesses in the retail sector right from the outset. Regular consultations, industry forums, and open channels of communication are essential. Additionally, clear communication about policy changes, timescales, regulatory adjustments, and support mechanisms is crucial. Businesses need certainty to plan effectively and adapt to any new legislation. I’d also the new Labour government actively seeking input from industry experts to ensure practical and effective regulations. It’s all about fostering collaboration and informed decision-making.

Unfair Dismissal Reforms

As I’ve previously stated, one of the headline changes Labour seek to introduce is the removal of the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims. In the first 100 days, it’s important the government clarifies its position on this because businesses need clarity on how to adapt their dismissal procedures, assess new hires effectively, and balance operational flexibility with worker rights. Employers in the sector need to take proactive measures too. Strengthening recruitment processes to ensure suitable hires and clearly communicating dismissal procedures to employees are essential steps.

Wage Revolution

The new Labour government aims to set the minimum wage at a new higher level real living wage. Labour will also abolish the age-related wage tiers, ensuring all adult workers receive equal pay, irrespective of age. The new government should closely monitor the effects of its living wage policy on businesses, using real-world outcomes to inform any necessary adjustments.

Many businesses in the sector heavily rely on workers in the 18-20 year old rate. If they haven’t already done so, it’s time for them to crunch the numbers and model how this change might impact their wage bills.

Family matters

Keir Starmer’s plans to enhance several family-friendly rights for workers, including granting parental and shared parental leave as a right from day one, and increasing statutory paternity and maternity leave. Many of these reforms are not yet fully detailed and will require additional elaboration and commentary from Labour regarding their implementation. 

Disconnecting dilemmas

Labour’s proposal of a ‘right to switch-off,’ allowing workers to disconnect after hours was another manifesto promise, however, the lack of implementation details raises questions, especially in the consumer sector. The impact will depend on how strictly these rules are enforced. While such policies aim to protect employee well-being, they could inadvertently hinder flexibility—especially for employers who rely on group chats for shift changes. Again, clarity from the new government is essential to strike the right balance.

Conclusion

When it comes to the economy, the new government must focus on issues most relevant to the retail sector. It’s not just employment issues that these businesses are looking for prompt action with, indeed a recent survey amongst small and medium-sized firms revealed that simplifying the tax system, whilst replacing business rates, score highly on their election wish list. Labour launched its five-point plan to breathe life into Britain’s high streets in April this year. Now that it’s in power, it needs to get to work straight away.

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