Brexit: Boris Johnson has got another think coming if he reckons voters will let him undermine workers’ rights

If the PM wants to keep Labour switchers on side, he'll need to maintain and extend employment rights.

Since the General Election, we’ve seen a steady drip of leaks and stories on the Johnson government’s attitude to workers’ rights when we leave the EU.

We have already seen reports of threats to ban strikes on the railways, followed by  an announcement in the Queens Speech of a bill on employment rights sometime in 2020 – with an implementation date of December.

Those clauses secured by some Labour MPs in Theresa May’s bill on a ‘level playing field for workers’ rights have been unceremoniously binned by Johnson.

At the time unions warned that a majority Conservative government would rip these clauses and argued that the only real guarantee of a level playing field is by ensuring workers’ rights were written into the treaty itself along with a mechanism for enforcement.

Johnson has set his course for a fight with the EU, who have already said a trade deal (even a basic deal) would be conditional on the UK accepting the EU’s rules on level playing fields on worker, consumer and environmental protections. A no deal Brexit – and a fight with both the UK’s unions and the EU on workers rights is looming.

A new post election poll conducted for the TUC shows that it won’t be plain sailing for the Tories.

According to the poll results published today, the vast majority of voters – including those who switched to or voted Conservative – want workers’ rights protected and enhanced. Voters who switched from Labour to the Conservatives are most likely to want stronger worker rights, higher pay and a ban on zero hours contracts.

The poll was conducted by GQR between December 12th and 16th, and shows that nearly 73% of voters say the government must protect and enhance current workplace rights guaranteed by the EU, such as paid holidays and rights for temporary and agency workers. 

This is supported by two-thirds (65%) of people who voted Conservative in 2019, and by 8 in 10 (79%) of those who switched from Labour to Conservative.

The vast majority of voters (71%) also want new rights for gig economy workers, including the majority (65%) of Tory voters and those who moved from Labour to the Conservatives during the election (78%).

There is also widespread support amongst the public for banning zero-hours contracts (66%) and having union rights in every workplace (63%).

And there is overwhelming support (68%) among the public for an immediate increase to the minimum wage of £10 an hour, especially among those who switched from Labour to the Conservatives (76%).

TUC’s General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“We know there are many in Boris Johnson’s cabinet who want to drive down labour standards. But there is little appetite in Britain – including among Conservative voters – for de-regulation and further tax cuts for the rich.

“The Prime Minister has no more excuses. Voters expect him to protect and strengthen rights at work. And to get on with investing in our public services and boosting wages.”

Tony Burke is Unite Assistant General Secretary, Chair of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom and the TUC General Council lead on workers and union rights.

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10 Responses to “Brexit: Boris Johnson has got another think coming if he reckons voters will let him undermine workers’ rights”

  1. Michael McManus

    Important subject where Labour could lead so should not be muddled. The minimum wage has nothing to do with workers’ rights and workers’ rights should not be confused with union leaders’ rights. There are still unions ‘electing’ leaders on pitifully low turnouts of single figure%. That’s not acceptable and should shame the union management into working harder at democracy – not a popular idea in parts of the Left where it’s One man, One vote, One time. If those complaining about GE and Ref turnouts have had anything to say about this, I missed it.

    Labour could consider working towards an industrial strategy where unions are redundant because businesses are run as cooperatives – John Lewis is one example but there are other ways of making enterprises for family-like than adversarial. There’s no reason why schools and universities should not become collegiate, electing their managers for fixed terms and working together rather than having policy dictated by ‘academy’ yahoos taking cash from classrooms and putting it into their own pockets. The Tories are talking a lot about their one-nation heritage. Labour should not set itself up as maintainer of conflict and grievance but push a positive policy of cooperation without middle-man union officials with their own interests.

  2. Chester Draws

    Having won the election, why would Johnson then run with the manifesto of the losing parties? That would pretty much destroy the point of winning.

    The Maybot showed that super-soft Tory is less popular than Boris, so he’s hardly going to follow her lead is he? (Actually, I reckon he’ll pretty much leave employment law alone, because he’s going to have much bigger fish to fry.)

    I’m sure the TUC aren’t lying in their poll, but the exact questions asked matter greatly. “Zero hour” contracts aren’t significantly different from freelancing — it just has been made to sound worse. (In both you are paid for what you do, when asked, with no guarantee of future employment.) And everyone’s in favour of new rights for themselves, if no adverse effects of them are spelled out (for example, the French have massive rights for permanent workers, and that has actually been really good for middle class professionals and really bad for people trying to break into the market — extra “rights” don’t always work out as you planned).

  3. Julia Gibb

    Unfortunately not a very convincing article. We have a Right Wing Government who will be in power for at least a decade. A hard Brexit is just around the corner. Workers rights will be dismissed. Tax cuts for the rich will be awarded.. Any industrial action will result in a backlash from the public who “adore” Boris the champion of Get Brexit Done.

    This is the World shaped by the voters of England. We are now on a frightening downhill trajectory so sit back, scream a little, close your eyes but the destination is now certain!

  4. Alice Aforethought

    What Chester Draws said.

    If you ask people would they like eleventy billion trillion pounds spent on the NHS they say yes. If you ask them would like it to be *their* eleventy billion trillion pounds, taken from their pay packet, they are suddenly a lot less keen.

    The top 1% of taxpayers earn 12% of the money but pay 30% of the income tax. The bottom 40% of earners pay no net income tax at all, and a large slice of the electorate just voted Conservative to keep it that way.

  5. Michael McManus

    Julie – what help is it to characterise politics by the seating arrangements of left or right? Is xenophobia left wing or right? Labour’s leadership has been the most egregiously xenophobic in recent years – hatred of America and Israel and by extension Jews everywhere. Were Chuka and Luciana and others wrong when they said Labour was racist to the core?

    For most of my life the complaint has been that Labour and Tory were too similar, too pragmatic, too moderate and cautious. The IEA was as mad for destructive policies as the SWP – narcotics for all for instance. Maybe we are looking, not at an extreme IEA-type govt but at something like the Blairite days – the good old days as they now seem, Corbyn and his gang having failed the country.

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