By Charlie Kimber
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2907

Labour’s plans for workers is a pro-boss compromise

Labour's plan for workers' rights are limited
Issue 2907

Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, and Tom Rutland, Labour’s candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham, speak to activists after a keynote speech at Lansing Parish Hall in West Sussex (Picture: Keir Starmer on Flickr)

Labour’s planned reform of workers’ rights has “more holes in it than Swiss cheese,” said the Unite union leader Sharon Graham.

While fully backing a Labour government, Graham added, “The number of caveats and getouts means it is in danger of becoming a bad bosses’ charter.”

In particular, Graham pointed out the plan was “NOT a ban on fire and rehire. Unite will continue to push for a total ban and will not support anything less”.

In the latest and presumably final version of the policy published last Friday, there are rude shocks for union leaders who thought Labour would deliver measures for them to support Keir Starmer.

Retain Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said bosses must retain the right to fire and rehire their workers on inferior contracts in some circumstances.

Labour’s package of reforms was first set out in 2021.

But the party diluted many of the policies during a meeting of the national policy forum, its internal policymaking body, last summer.

The Financial Times newspaper revealed this month that Labour was further watering down parts of the New Deal for Working People in an attempt to woo big business.

Upset by these leaks, leaders of 11 trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party turned up at party headquarters to meet Starmer in mid-May.

A chummy statement followed celebrating that “Labour and the affiliated unions had a constructive discussion today. Together we have reiterated Labour’s full commitment to the New Deal for Working People as agreed in July.”

But now—and it should be no surprise—it turns out that the corporations will still influence what happens on key issues. Labour needs the support of trade union leaders to finance and staff its activities.

So it makes some gestures towards the unions. However, it is all highly limited and subordinate to not scaring the corporations.

Labour promises some changes within 100 days of an election victory. But the document adds, “much of the detail will be based on regulations so we can react flexibly to changing economic circumstances”.

So for Labour economic problems will come before workers’ rights. It goes on, “Where these plans require substantial secondary legislation, we will engage widely with experts and stakeholders, including employers and trade unions.

“We have acknowledged that there are other areas of the New Deal that will take longer to review and implement. We will carry out full and detailed consultation.”

Bosses’ voices are central to the final outcome. Promises to improve the minimum wage and sick leave have no figure attached to them.

An earlier pledge to pass laws allowing workers to disconnect and not be contacted by their employer outside working hours has gone. Winning rights under Starmer will take struggle from day one of a new government.

  • There are promises to remove some anti-union laws in Labour’s plan. The paper says Labour will repeal “the Trade Union Act 2016, the Minimum Service Levels (Strikes) Bill and the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022 to give trade unions the freedom to organise, represent and negotiate on behalf of their workers”.
  • This would take away turnout thresholds for strike ballots. It would be a real gain, making it much easier to call strikes and harder for trade union leaders to avoid ballots or not to implement them because they don’t hit the arbitrary turnout levels. This is the one significant promise, although there is no guarantee that the repeal will take place quickly or that some alternative threshold will be implemented. The large bulk of antiunion laws would remain.

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