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In the long run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate." Labour law in its modern form is primarily a creation of the last three decades of the 20th century.
However, as a system of regulating the employment relationship, labour law has existed since people worked.
Gradually people's relationship to their employers moved from one of status - formal subordination and deference - to contract whereby people were formally free to choose their work.
However, freedom of contract did not, as the economist Adam Smith observed, change a worker's factual dependency on employers.
Ultimately this led to the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, which was in turn suppressed and followed up with the Statute of Cambridge 1388, which banned workers from moving around the country.
Yet conditions were improving as serfdom was breaking down.
Collective bargaining, between democratically organised trade unions and the enterprise's management, has been seen as a "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.
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.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.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.One sign was the beginning of the more enlightened Truck Acts, dating from 1464, that required that workers be paid in cash and not kind.