Labour is promising to give all workers the “right to choose working hours” as part of sweeping employment reforms if it wins the UK general election.
The party wants to see a “workplace revolution” to improve the lives of women at work, with a raft of new policies on extended maternity pay, the menopause, gender pay reporting and harassment.
Companies could face fines for failing to take action to close the gender pay gap, while big firms would be ordered to train managers to better understand the menopause.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) welcomed new measures to protect staff from harassment and extend maternity pay to a year, but said other pledges were the “wrong answers to the right questions.”
Conservative business secretary Andrea Leadsom also told Sky News: "A vote for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour is a vote to put businesses and jobs at risk.
"Their reckless plans would cripple businesses across the country - leaving hardworking people to pay the price."
Shadow women and equalities minister Dawn Butler set out Labour’s policies on Friday ahead of ‘equal pay day’ next week.
Next Thursday marks the point at which women “effectively stop getting paid for the rest of the year compared to their male counterparts” because of the gender pay gap.
Butler said she was “sick” of how female workers are treated, and said audits did not go far enough.
Flexible working by default
The party promised to create a presumption in favour of flexible working, obliging employers to have it as the default option when creating roles.
The onus would be on the employer to show a job is not suitable for flexible working, according to a set of unspecified criteria that would be set out in new legal guidance.
Fines for not tackling gender pay gaps
Labour would fine firms failing to publish or take action to close their gender pay gaps, with Butler citing recent figures showing the average gap for full-time workers is 13.1%.
Companies with good practices would “receive government certification,” and a planned Workers Protection Agency would enforce compliance.
Meanwhile the threshold for the size of firms required to report on gender pay gaps would be slashed to 50 employees by 2020.
“With proper enforcement mechanisms there will be no place for large employers to hide gender inequality in their organisations,” the party said in a press release.
Higher statutory maternity pay
Labour would extend statutory maternity pay from 39 weeks to 52 weeks, bringing it into line with the full year women are allowed to take off.
The party said the measures would let new mothers “spend a full year with their newborn babies before going back to work” or increase time available for shared parental leave.
New duties to help menopausal staff
Labour would order firms with more than 250 staff to introduce flexible working and sickness absence procedures to meet the needs of women experiencing the menopause.
Companies would have to carry out risk assessments to ensure workplaces “will not make their symptoms worse,” and train managers to understand the menopause and adjustments that might be needed.
It said research showed three in five working women aged 45-55 experiencing symptoms said it negatively affected them, but they felt unable to disclose it when taking sick leave.
Tackling sexual harassment
Labour’s pledges to help tackle workplace sexual harassment include making employers legally liable over harassment of staff by ‘third parties’ such as clients or customers.
They would also order employers to publish sexual harassment policies and measures to implement them on their websites.
A new law would overrule any workers’ contracts that prevent them disclosing discrimination, harassment or victimisation in future, while the window to file employment tribunal claims would rise from three to six months.
‘Wrong answers to the right questions’
Matthew Percival, the CBI’s director of people and skills policy, said many firms were already making their workplaces more inclusive.
He said the CBI had long supported proposals to extend maternity leave and protect against third-party harassment.
But he added: “Needing government approval to set working patterns and company diversity action plans is bureaucratic to the point of being ineffective and unaffordable.
“They are the wrong answers to the right questions. The next government should work with business to develop policies that tackle gender inequality in ways that work for everyone.”