Socialist Worker

Labour’s new policy on workers’ rights tinkers but doesn’t transform

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2552

Jeremy Corbyn speaking in London last week

Jeremy Corbyn speaking in London last week (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The difference between what’s on offer at the general election from the Tories and Labour was underlined last week over workers’ rights.

Labour issued a 20-point programme of improvements. The Tories—after seven years of ruthlessly attacking workers—gave one half-promise to make things slightly better. Possibly.

Theresa May said the pensions regulator would get new powers to veto takeovers of companies if the deal would strip funds from retirement schemes. But there would be no guarantee the power would be used.

Labour’s pledges include a ban on zero hours contracts, repeal of the Trade Union Act that was fully implemented two months ago, and four new bank holidays.

Labour says it will give all workers equal rights from day one, whether part time or full time, temporary or permanent. At present some rights start from day one, some after a month, some after eight weeks and some only after two years with the same employer.

Under Labour employment tribunal fees would be scrapped, protections for women against unfair redundancy strengthened and paid paternity leave doubled to four weeks.

Conditions

But if these pledges are to transform conditions it will need more than tinkering with the present situation.

Years of Tory rule and previous Blairite policies have had a long term effect on workers’ conditions and pay.

It is not simply a case of reversing the latest policies but dismantling years of attacks on workers.

It’s good to hear that Labour will end the public sector pay cap. But how big will be the pay increases that follow?

What does the Tory Trade Union Act mean for trade unionism?
What does the Tory Trade Union Act mean for trade unionism?
  Read More

In local government, for example, real pay has fallen by around 20 percent since 2009. It’s a similar story in the NHS.

That pay robbery—which is leading to massive demoralisation and staff shortages—cannot be regained by increases at, or slightly above the rate of inflation.

Getting rid of the anti-union laws will remove the ballot thresholds that make large-scale strikes difficult.

But it would leave in place all the other anti-union laws about ballots and penalties that were passed under the Tories from 1980 onwards.

These have only been slightly amended since then.

The trade union and Labour left rightly criticised Tony Blair’s government for leaving intact the Tory anti trade union laws.

A Corbyn-led government would have to dismantle them completely. Other pledges will need to be set out more clearly in the manifesto.

Increase

On the minimum wage there is an important increase to £10 an hour. It could increase pay for workers in more than six million jobs. But it’s not wholly clear what it means.

Jeremy Corbyn said that the £10 an hour rate would be implemented “within months” and “for all”.

But the official pledge seems to be at least £10 an hour by 2020, and it may not apply to workers under 21.

The increase to £10 an hour needs to come as soon as possible, and apply to all workers.

Every legal gain is to be welcomed. Such moves can raise the confidence of workers to go further.

But the real issue is whether workplace organisation is strengthened and trade union militancy developed.

This is the best way to defend and extend rights at work—by creating and strengthening a fighting working class.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.