Can Theresa May be trusted to protect workers’ rights?

Beyond the talk, the PM's Brexit team will likely bargain our rights for trade


Those of us worried about workers’ rights as Britain escapes the Brussels yoke have nothing to fear but fear itself – or so David Davis would have us believe.

Speaking to Tory conference on Saturday, the newly invented Secretary for Brexit cooed:

‘To those who are trying to frighten British workers, saying ‘When we leave, employment rights will be eroded’, I say firmly and unequivocally ‘no they won’t’.

Britain already goes beyond EU law in many areas – and we give this guarantee: this Conservative government will not roll back those rights in the workplace.’

Our national saviour Theresa May shook the winter palace with her own vows to protect workers the following day:

‘And let me be absolutely clear: existing workers’ legal rights will continue to be guaranteed in law – and they will be guaranteed as long as I am Prime Minister.

And in fact, as we announced yesterday, under this government, we’re going see workers’ rights not eroded, and not just protected, but enhanced under this government.’

She went on:

‘Because the Conservative Party is the true workers’ party, the only party dedicated to making Britain a country that works, not just for the privileged few, but for every single one of us.’

Then raise the scarlet standard high, beneath it’s folds we’ll live and die! Boris Johnson joked yesterday that Tory conference, unlike Labour’s, would not see any rendition of The Red Flag, but he should have told his Prime Minister, who seemed ready to burst into song at any minute.

What to make of all these promises on workers’ rights?

Well, Davis and May’s remarks were welcomed by Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), who has taken a pragmatic approach to the new PM’s leftish stance.

But she warned that personal assurances (‘as long as I’m Prime Minister’) are no substitute for legal protections that last beyond May’s premiership. For example, O’Grady said:

‘We need May’s government to ensure that any future trade deal between the UK and EU includes a commitment not to fall behind the EU on improvements to employment rights.’

You can say that again. Given the Tories’ enthusiasm for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP – which placed the rights of multinational corporations over not just workers, but national governments – the kind of deals Davis, Liam Fox, Priti Patel and Boris Johnson will be cooking up leave plenty of scope for fear about the rights of British workers.

O’Grady added:

‘The Prime Minister must follow her words on improving workers‘ rights with action.

Britain’s job market has proved to be a magnet for the wrong kind of bosses. There must be tougher rules to stop them using zero-hours contracts to keep the whip hand over workers, and to undercut decent employers.

And the hefty employment tribunal fees that are pricing hard working people out of justice must be scrapped.’

She said the PM must listen to trade unions on these issues: ‘The TUC stands ready to work with the government to give working people the new rights they need for fairness and security at work.’

If Theresa May means anything she says, her government will take up this offer and speak to people who actually know about workers’ rights and how to protect and improve them.

But since she has consistently voted for curbs on trade unions, including Cameron’s Trade Union Act, one can’t expect much solidarity from the self-described leader of ‘the true workers’ party’.

Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

See: Theresa May blasts ‘safe space’ students, but she’s a bigger free speech menace

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