The Labour party has a long and proud history of being the party not just of working people but for working people. People deserve high-quality, secure jobs, and our ambition to ensure a fair day’s pay for a day’s work is core to our values. Everyone deserves a job they can build a life on, and the security to be able to start a family as they so wish, no matter who they are or what job they do.
Work has a special status not just for fulfilment but as a source of self-esteem that brings agency and purpose, as my colleague Jon Cruddas MP explores in his latest book, The Dignity of Labour. But more than that, working people should be able to enjoy the fruits of their labour and balance work with life; to enjoy what academic Amelia Horgan calls in Lost in Work the “possibilities for human cooperation and joy” outside the work they do. We need bread, but we need some roses too.
Instead of an employment model that works for working people, the Conservative government has, over the last decade, presided over a race to the bottom hosted on the backs of working people. The rise of outsourcing, zero-hours contracts and bogus self employment have driven down relative pay, standards and conditions across sectors of our whole economy. Our country has become trapped in a cycle of low growth, low pay, and high taxes.
Whether it is parents getting a late night text to tell them their working hours and tearing their hair out organising last-minute childcare to cover their shift; social care workers working two jobs who can’t afford to take a break or get sick; or the bus driver who worked all through the pandemic but was fired and rehired on less money and longer hours – Britain under this Conservative government is not working for working people.
The fifth anniversary of the publication of the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, which was commissioned in response to the rise of the so called ‘gig economy’, fell in June. But even the modest 53 recommendations – 51 of which were accepted by this government – are yet to be implemented. The employment legislation that promised to follow the EU withdrawal agreement three years ago, which ministers said would not only safeguard but enhance rights and protections, has not arrived.
With the confirmation in the recent Queen’s speech that the government’s Employment Bill has been shelved, a host of ministerial promises have fallen by the wayside: the introduction of a single enforcement body; action on tips and sick pay; the consultation on flexible working; paternity and maternity rights; unpaid carers’ leave; redundancy protection for pregnant women; and of course, the promise to end the cruel practice of fire and rehire. A litany of broken promises that shows the extent to which this Conservative government has failed working people. Boosting people’s income is not just the right thing for them – it is the right thing for our economy. The fact is, right now people do not have money to spend in our shops, our businesses, our local economies – and high streets are suffering. It is contributing to the cost of living crisis.
Places that were once a source of great pride are now a source of great sadness as independent businesses are replaced with pawn shops or covered in plywood shutters. Under this government, the people that worked to build Britain have been forgotten – in towns up and down this country, people are working harder, paying more, but getting less, every year: frozen wages, widespread inequality, and increasing poverty. The people and places that once proudly powered Britain and made their contribution to our economy are being rewarded by low wages and insecure work: underpaid, underappreciated and undervalued.
Britain’s insecure work epidemic is not just punishing workers and communities – it is starving the public finances too. Recent research from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) shows that insecure low-paid work costs the Treasury £10bn a year in lost tax revenues and by pushing up social security payments. And that means less funding for our cash-strapped hospitals, care homes and schools. The self-defeating cycle harms us all and real change is needed.
That is why Labour has proposed a New Deal for Working People. Better pay would end the self-defeating low wage, low investment, and low productivity cycle that the country has been trapped in for the last decade. We want fair pay in the world of work. Labour would introduce fair pay agreements with unions and employers, starting in social care.
We also want to ensure we help sectors of the economy thrive The Welsh Labour government has continued sectoral bargaining with agriculture, and this is being developed in several sectors in New Zealand by Jacinda Arden’s Labour government. It is common in European countries such as Sweden and France too.
We are serious about spreading opportunity, prosperity and power across the country – and that means paying people a fair day’s pay for a day’s work. We know the importance of those jobs that have been underpaid and undervalued for too long and deserve a higher wage for their sector than the national minimum wage. This will also help with recruitment and retaining people and their skills for longer.
Under the Conservatives, work does not mean fairness anymore. And it does not mean security either. Labour will strengthen the protections afforded to all workers by banning zero-hours contracts; acting against bogus self-employment; and ending qualifying periods for basic rights, which leave working people waiting up to two years for basic protections. We will put an end to this arbitrary system, scrapping the qualifying time for basic rights, such as unfair dismissal, sick pay, and parental leave. With a Labour government, working people will have rights at work from day one.
Having been a single parent myself, I know only too well the challenges of trying to balance work with being a good mum. Running from work to the school gates, missing out on parents’ evening. Rather than stacking the odds against working parents, Labour would deliver stronger family-friendly rights. We will extend statutory maternity and paternity leave, introducing the right to bereavement leave and strengthening protections for pregnant women. Labour will ensure all workers have the right to flexible working as a default from day one.
This government’s programme is also completely lacking in any plans to tackle the inequalities facing Black, Asian and minority ethnic people so visibly exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet again the government has reneged on its promise to introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting, ignoring calls by the Confederation of British Industry and TUC. Labour will also act to close gender, disability – and ethnicity – pay gaps. Our country is riven by inequalities which Labour is focused on fixing – to ensure the working people who create our nation’s wealth get their fair share of it.
Meanwhile the government has proposed a Procurement Bill that looks increasingly unworthy of the name. The government has failed to use its buying power to support British businesses. A Labour government would help British businesses win more government contracts using social, environmental and labour clauses in contract design. We would use public procurement to support good work. From good green jobs in tidal power and offshore wind, to fintech, media and film, we must grow modern industries to build a long-term economy that provides good jobs and is fit for the future.
Where the Conservatives scrapped their own Industrial Strategy Council, Labour will create an industrial strategy fit for the 21st century, built on an ethos of cooperation across the public and private sectors, employers and workers.
Investment, jobs and opportunities have not been evenly spread across the country. Many people have had to move many miles away to find decent opportunities to get on. Labour’s mission is to create more and better jobs that are closer to home, so people have the real choices that they have been denied for far too long.
So many businesses play by the rules and try to do the right thing but are undercut by the unscrupulous. Many of them are small and medium-sized businesses that are the backbone of local and regional economies. They deserve better too. Deliveroo and GMB Union’s recent groundbreaking agreement shows how innovation and a voice at work can go hand in hand. Many successful businesses already understand the value of trade unions in a modern economy. But restrictions on trade union activity are holding back living standards and the economy. Labour will update trade union legislation so it is fit for a modern economy.
The Conservatives have had 12 long years to make the changes our country desperately needs to secure our future. But they have failed. We have seen the watering down of workers’ rights and rogue bosses like P&O take advantage of our lax rules while ministers stand idly by.
Labour’s approach is to offer people real help right now and a vision for the future of work where working people enjoy dignity and where they are treated with respect.
This Conservative government has not got a plan – it has run out of ideas, it has run out of road and it has run out of time. Labour is ambitious for our country. We will build a Britain that works for working people.
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