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Unions Threaten Labour With Legal Action If They Axe London Weighting

Labour leader Keir Starmer. Credit: Alamy.

4 min read

Trade unions have threatened legal action against Labour if it starts removing the London weighting from staff members who haven't agreed to the change.

Last month it emerged that Labour is planning to strip staff working in the capital of their London salary weighting unless they go back into the office three days a week – a move unions have described as a “heavy handed threat”.

On September 22 an email from the party's "People and Talent" team, with the subject "Return to Office Working" stated that from 11 October, "eligibility for London Weighting depends on working for at least three days of the working week in a London office. If your work pattern doesn't include this arrangement then London Weighting will be removed".

The GMB and Unite unions have now said if any members have the additional pay removed without consent, they will be seeking a “legal challenge” against the party on their behalf. 

In an email seen by PoliticsHome, GMB's Vaughan West, the party’s regional political officer and organiser for London, reminded members that their consent was essential for an employer to legally reduce wages. 

If the union did not believe sufficient consent was agreed, he added, "we will claim an unlawful deduction of wages and seek a legal challenge against the Labour Party”.

A Labour source told PoliticsHome that there are no plans to remove the London weighting from staff "without prior agreement".

They said all flexible working requests, where someone chooses their home rather than the office as their primary working location, would involve a discussion with staff and changes to pay would only be made with their consent. They insisted there were no plans to remove pay from staff without undergoing this process. 

Unions have also criticised Labour for the timing of their review of London weighting, saying that morale is already low after the party drastically scaled back staffing levels and restructured teams in a bid to try and save money. 

The party has recently cut an estimated quarter of its workforce – around 80 jobs – after reported financial strain. Last year the party incurred significant legal costs as a result of payouts in legal cases relating to anti-Semitism. Labour also now receives less “short money”, the funding given by government to opposition parties, after the 2019 General Election left them with significantly fewer MPs.

It was reported earlier this year that  90 jobs would be cut from payroll, but Labour eventually accepted 80 voluntary redundancies from staff, and avoided a compulsory redundancy phase. 

Staff have left in groups over the last four weeks, though many were asked to stay longer to work at the party’s annual conference in Brighton last month. 

Critics of removing the London weighting from staff include Andrew Fisher, former director of policy for the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn

Keir Starmer in his conference speech: 'I am so proud to lead a party whose name is Labour'. Don’t forget it. Labour. The party of working people," he tweeted.

West’s email to the party’s staffers said unions also wanted to ensure employees could continue to work from home where it is possible if they are concerned about Covid. 

He said for those working three days at home and two days in the office, they should still be able to get the London weighting on their salary.

West called for an end to discussions about removing the weighting until a review of home working was agreed to by the party. Unions have asked Labour to agree to allow for more days working at home without requiring staff to move to a formal flexible working agreement.

While Labour said that the unions were consulted on the plans to alter London weighting eligibility, West noted that did not necessarily mean they had agreed to it. 

One Labour staffer, who is unhappy with the removal of the weighting, believed the move was universally unpopular among staff and politicians.  

"It's unnecessary and Labour is now looking like quite a bad employer," they said. 

"The Labour Party likes to pride itself on being quite a progressive employer and place to work and this undoes all of that.

"It could also put people off from applying for jobs with the party in the future."

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