Labour is a pro-worker, pro-business party. There is no contradiction. What we are not is a ‘business as usual’ party. Fundamental change is necessary.
Now, the days of the Conservatives claiming to be the party of business are over. Their catastrophic handling of Brexit and the impact it could have on British business has put paid to that mantra. However, we cannot allow ourselves to be complacent and think that, as business falls out of love with the Tories, they will automatically turn to us. We need to prove ourselves as a credible party which can overturn the failings of seven years of Tory rule.
We are living through the worst decade for productivity in 150 years and the longest stagnation in living standards since Disraeli was in Downing Street and trade unions were illegal. This government has consistently mismanaged the economy, impacting on workers and businesses alike. It is only through an economic approach which seeks to build a strong economy to benefit employers and employees alike that we can build a country fit for the challenges of the 21st century.
The world of work has changed dramatically since we last took power from the Tories in 1997. We have seen a continuation of the fragmentation of the British workforce, an increase in precarious and insecure work and the growth of technology leading to the digitalisation of many industries. One of the prime examples of these trends is the private hire sector. Uber, along with a selection of smaller companies, have sought to transform an industry which until recently relied upon picking up a black cab or knowing your local minicab firm’s phone number, to one in which it only takes two taps on your smartphone to hail a taxi and pay for it electronically.
While this change has undoubtedly led to greater customer convenience, it also presents challenges too. Uber drivers, along with most other workers in the platform-working economy, are ‘self-employed’. This means that while they can control when they work and how long for, they do not enjoy benefits such as holiday pay, sick pay and parental leave which the union movement fought so hard for. Platform working is not in itself a bad thing. On the contrary, what is wrong is to deprive workers of their rights and create a marketplace where the reputable are undercut by the rogues – who all too often dodge paying their fair share of tax.
That’s why Labour has called for a number of measures to improve working conditions for workers in the ‘so-called gig economy’. These include extending all rights to all workers across all sectors, from day one. We would also ensure that employees are informed of their rights from day one. Alongside these, the introduction of a Real Living Wage of at least £10 per hour would immediately increase living standards for millions in the UK.
However, it is not only workers who would benefit from the introduction of a Real Living Wage. Heading the organising department of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, I was a founder member of the drive for the living wage at the start of this century. We learned very quickly that it was important to build an economic case for the increase, as well as naming and shaming those who at the time did not pay it, which included, not only banks and finance houses in the City of London and Canary Wharf but even the House of Commons at the time.
Paying a living wage benefits all in society. It is:
- Good for the worker – more money in their pocket and a better standard of living
- Good for the worker’s family – increased income and not having to work two or three jobs to get by
- Good for the employer – research suggests that paying higher wages leads to a better motivated workforce, less turnover of staff and increased productivity
- Good for the local economy – because workers paid more do not salt their money away in Swiss bank accounts, but spend it on their local high street
- Good for the taxpayer – workers earning more, pay more tax and claim less in benefits.
All these policies would be driven by a new ministry of labour if we win the next election. The ministry would look to bring together enforcement agencies across government and ensure better enforcement of workers’ rights, minimum pay and the payment of tax. It is only through this joined-up approach that we can provide a better standard of living and equality of opportunity for all in our society.
The world of work is changing before our very eyes and we need to embrace it. The fragmentation of some industries and the increase in the use of artificial intelligence will throw up enormous challenges. So, while we wholeheartedly welcome potential of the new technologies, it is vital that at the heart of it all, workers enjoy a fair deal. Ours will be an approach which embraces technological change but on the right terms, that work for workers, consumers, the taxpayer and ultimately, good employers in a fairer marketplace.