Labour law in global context LA3018

The module also covers ‘collective’ labour law in global context – including trade union ‘recognition’ and the law relating to trade disputes.

This module not only covers individual matters (such as employment contracts, statutory rights, protection from discrimination and dismissal) but also ‘collective’ employment law (trade unions).

Topics covered

  • History and theory of modern labour law. Beginning at the end of the 19th century and the foundation of the International Labour Organization in 1919, you will learn how modern UK, EU and international labour law developed, and theory about labour law’s empirical effects.
  • Scope of rights protection. Who benefits from labour rights? Should everyone get legal protection from day one, and should all rights cover the same people? How are rights enforced?  
  • Employment contracts. The foundation of the work relationship remains the contract, which is usually dictated by the employer in a standard form, photocopied for everyone. Which terms go into the relationship, through collective agreements, and how are terms are implied by law?
  • Minimum wages and working time. The statutory protection of workers to create a minimum-living wage, and maximum working hours through paid holidays are fundamental human rights. How are they enforced in law and in practice?
  • Collective bargaining. How does law ensure that people get fair wages and conditions beyond the minima set by law? The central method is the formation of trade unions, to collectively bargain on behalf of all workers. How does the law regulate or promote freedom of association?
  • Right to strike. Collective bargaining, without the right to strike, is often called ‘collective begging’. Strike action can be costly, but from Indian Independence, to the fall of the Soviet Union, to ending Apartheid in South Africa, strikes protect democracy and make a fairer economy. How does law protect the right to strike, and pre-empt disputes before they occur?
  • Worker voice in corporate governance. What rights do workers have in the governance of enterprise? In pension capital, work councils, and with votes for company boards, direct representation of workers in governance has become an essential part of modern labour law.
  • Equality. How does the law ensure that people do not suffer unjustified discrimination, such as sexism, racism, ablism or ageism, at work? The law stops both direct and indirect discrimination, as well as taking small steps towards positive action, to promote social inclusion, not division.
  • Job security and fair dismissals. How does the law ensure that employers cannot shout “you’re fired” for irrational, conflicted reasons? What notice should employers give, and how does the law resolve the conflicts of interest that employers and managers may have?
  • Full employment and redundancies. How can governments ensure that everyone has the right to work? If redundancies must occur, what can be done to minimise them?

Learning outcomes

If you complete the module successfully you should be able to:

  • Understand the principles of labour rights in the UK, Commonwealth, EU and internationally
  • Understand the interaction of different systems for labour rights protection in a globalising world
  •  Understand the debates about what makes a successful system of labour rights
  • Read and interpret labour legislation and case law
  • Develop convincing legal arguments for and against employees, unions or employers in problem questions or real life cases
  • Explain why labour legislation, which goes beyond ordinary property and contract law, is seen as necessary to promote human welfare
  • Explain the basics of empirical evidence about the economic and social impact of different systems of labour protection.


3hr 15 mins unseen examination

Essential reading

McGaughey, E. A casebook on labour law. (London: Hart Publishing, 2018) 1st edition [ISBN 9781849465298].