Tony Burke: Why Labour’s new deal for workers is a game changer

Flexible working and employment rights are vote winners, but Labour need to make clear they will end zero hours contracts.

Last week marked a turning point for the Labour Party as they at last announced a “new deal” for workers  – adopting many policies and ideas advocated by the UK unions, The TUC, the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom and the Institute of Employment Rights.

The new deal for workers sets out new and improved employment rights for all workers. These include the adoption of a single status for all workers with employment rights from day one.

This means there will be no discriminatory qualifying periods, which have seen thousands of workers with less that two years service sacked with few legal rights to gain redress.  

Gig workers, agency and temporary workers, those in bogus self employment therefore will get, under Labour, the same rights as permanent employees.

These proposals are already being supported by Labour via Lord John Hendy QC’s Status Of Workers private members bill currently in the House Of Lords.

The TUC’s recent research shows the these two proposals alone are significant game changers. The TUC polling also reveals that more than eight in ten (84%) working people want all workers to have the same rights.

One in nine workers (3.6 million) are employed in insecure agency, temporary or gig work  – and as the TUC has stated rights from day one is vote winner.

Another pillar of the new deal is the right to flexible working. The Covid pandemic has generated a strong demand among workers to have more say on their working lives – especially on flexible working patterns and shorter hours.

The TUC polling shows that more than four out of five (82%) workers in Britain want to work flexibly in the future, rising to 87% among female workers.

At present workers can request flexible working from employers who can turned down workers requests for flexible working patterns to help with work like balance and childcare.

But unions are set to demand more flexibility and fewer hours including reductions in total working hours and the length of the working week, and longer breaks from work and holidays.

Strengthening the right to collective bargaining is another central pillar of the new deal, giving unions much stronger rights to negotiate and a much easier path to secure rights to union recognition in the workplace.

This is a welcome and timely programme for unions and working families.

But there are still also some pieces of the jigsaw to put into place – including the question over zero hours contracts, which are still a feature in the world of work in the UK.

It is the time for Labour to make it clear they will end zero hours contracts and ban the use of umbrella companies who employ agency workers – a practice with mounting evidence of abuses of workers’ rights as well as fraud.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said: “These scandalous workplace practices have no place in modern Britain. But our inadequate regulations let dodgy umbrella companies off the hook – allowing them to act with impunity.”

Without these important demands, the proposals for day one rights and a single status for all workers will be undermined.

There can be no fudging these issues. Some employers and right wing media will no doubt claim the new deal for workers will bring UK industry and business bring the country to its knees and demand they be dropped. 

But when the Covid pandemic struck our watchwords were ‘there can be no going back’.  

Other countries have ended zero hours and introduced guaranteed working hours arrangements without any problems – and the move has proved popular. Deliveroo have decided to pull out of Spain as the Spanish government stood firm and told the company their delivery riders will be required to be classed as employees. 

These busted business models should be confined to history.

Andy McDonald, the Labour NEC and our union officials who have drawn up the new deal plans are to be congratulated – who says we should ignore politics and working with the Labour Party?

The new deal for workers needs to set out these plans for a new deal for workers, in clear, straightforward language, our MPs should get behind the policies. They are vote winners.

Tony Burke is Assistant General Secretary at Unite, the TUC General Council’s Lead on Employment and Union Rights and president of the Confederation Of Shipbuilding and Engineering Union.

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