United Kingdom labour law regulates the relations between workers, employers and trade unions. People at work in the UK benefit from a minimum charter of employment rights, which are found in various Acts, Regulations, common law and equity. This includes the right to a minimum wage of £6.50 for over 21-year-olds under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. The Working Time Regulations 1998 give the right to 28 paid holidays, breaks from work, and attempts to limit excessively long working hours. The Employment Rights Act 1996 gives the right to leave for child care, and the right to request flexible working patterns. The Pensions Act 2008 gives the right to be automatically enrolled in a basic occupational pension, whose funds must be protected according to the Pensions Act 1995.
To get fair labour standards beyond the minimum, the most important right is to collectively participate in decisions about how an enterprise is managed. This works through collective bargaining, underpinned by the right to strike, and a growing set of rights of direct workplace participation. Workers must be able to vote for trustees of their occupational pensions under the Pensions Act 2004. In some enterprises, such as universities, staff can vote for the directors of the organisation. In enterprises with over 50 staff, workers must be informed and consulted about major economic developments or difficulties. This happens through a steadily increasing number of work councils, which usually must be requested by staff. However, the UK remains behind European standards in requiring all employees to have a vote for their company’s board of directors, alongside private sector shareholders, or government authorities in the public sector. Collective bargaining, between democratically organised trade unions and the enterprise’s management, remains the “single channel” for individual workers to counteract the employer’s abuse of power when it dismisses staff or fix the terms of work. Collective agreements are ultimately backed up by a trade union’s right to strike: a fundamental requirement of democratic society in international law. Under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 strikes are basically lawful if they are “in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute”.
As well as having rights for fair treatment, the Equality Act 2010 requires that people are treated equally, unless there is a good justification, based on their gender, race, sexual-orientation, beliefs and age. To combat social exclusion, employers must positively accommodate the needs of disabled people. Part-time staff, agency workers, and people on fixed-term contracts are treated generally equally compared to full-time or permanent staff. To tackle unemployment, all employees are entitled to reasonable notice before dismissal after a qualifying period of a month, after two years they can only be dismissed for a fair reason, and are entitled to a redundancy payment if their job was no longer economically necessary. If an enterprise is bought or outsourced, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 require that employees’ terms cannot be worsened without a good economic, technical or organisational reason.
The purpose of these rights is to ensure people have dignified living standards, whether or not they have the relative bargaining power to get good terms and conditions in their contract.