Theresa May makes election pledges on employment rights

Theresa May is today pledging a statutory right to a year’s unpaid carer leave, a guarantee on all current EU workers’ rights, pension protections and worker representation on listed company boards.

The ‘new deal for workers’ pledge comes as the Conservative seek to move into Labour territory as a result of the general election. Labour said that pledging that the Conservatives was the party of workers’ rights was “taking working people for fools”. The GMB echoed this, saying its members would “believe it when they see it”.

May’s pledge includes a statutory two-week period of leave for parents whose child has died, new protections for those working in the gig economy and a statutory right to training plus a rise in the minimum wage for those aged 25 and over in line with average earnings until 2022.

Labour said the Conservatives had overseen an “era of non-compliance with employment law”, an “explosion in low pay and stagnating wages” and a “massive expansion in bogus self-employment”. Its leaked draft manifesto includes  pledges to ban zero hours contracts to ensure every worker has a guaranteed number of hours each week; raise the minimum wage for everyone to the level of the living wage; abolish employment tribunal fees to increase access to justice; double paid paternity leave; and introduce four new Bank Holidays.

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary, said: “I’m sure there will be plenty of fanfare that the Conservatives have realised the importance of working people’s votes, but the ‘greatest extension of workers rights by a Tory Government’ frankly wouldn’t be that hard to achieve given recent history.

“GMB members will believe it when they see it. Want to improve the lot of working Britain? End the public sector pay pinch that is seeing thousands of front line workers struggle. Give workers equal rights from the day they start work and end the wide scale abuse of agency contracts by companies who use insecure work as a business model.

“Commit to a real living wage that people can live on without claiming benefits – all of which Labour has pledged to do. And let’s not forget, a lot of the problems working people face day in, day out were caused by Tory austerity policies in the first place.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, however, welcomed the pledge, but called for more details. She said:  “This is a promising set of commitments from the Conservatives, though it’s clear that much more detail is needed.

“Before the election, the Conservatives must set out the protections they will offer gig economy workers, and confirm that workers will be able to speak for themselves on company boards. They should also clarify that they’re sticking to their 2020 target for the national living wage.

“Working people have a right to know these details before they cast their votes.

“And while it’s good to see the PM reaffirm her pledge to protect existing rights at work, she needs to ensure that British workers don’t miss out on future EU rights too.”

Ben Black, CEO and Founder of My Family Care,  was positive. He said:  “Giving employees time off to “care” is exactly the right thing for the Government to be doing.  Brave as well.

“There will be plenty of people that think a new right to care represents yet more mollycoddling from an interfering Government that will simply make life more difficult for businesses everywhere.  They couldn’t be more wrong.”

But Tim Goodwin, associate at Winckworth Sherwood, stated: “It was David Cameron who scaled back employment rights radically, most notably making it harder to bring unfair dismissal claims and introducing huge Tribunal fees – in most cases up to £1,200 – which has seen claims fall by up to 70%.  Unless action is taken to make bringing a claim more realistic, I can’t see that some of these new rights, such as unpaid leave to care for a relative, will add much because the reality is that, unless workers can enforce their rights, they will not be observed.”

But he added: “It’s heartening to see that workers’ rights we have from EU law will be preserved post-Brexit. Many of the leading Brexit voices – including some that are in the cabinet now – had argued for Brexit on the basis of scrapping EU employment regulations.  The key will be whether, once we see how Brexit unfolds, this promise holds up in the long term.”

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