Scaling back Labour’s workers’ rights plan would be disastrous, warns TUC president

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Watering down Labour’s plan to strengthen workers’ rights would be disastrous for the party’s relations with the unions and could cost votes at the general election, the president of the Trades Union Congress has warned.

Amid reports that Sir Keir Starmer may bow to pressure from business and amend important parts of his “new deal for workers”, Matt Wrack said the Labour leader risked causing “significant anger” among union members.

Wrack, the general secretary of the 34,000-strong Fire Brigades Union, said: “The debate on workers’ rights is a key issue for all unions as we approach a general election. As a policy, it is very popular with our members but it is popular with the voters as well.

“We know Labour will come under pressure from business interests but there should be no backtracking and no weakening. Labour needs to deliver this as one of its top priorities. If there is a rolling back there will be significant anger.”

The proposed new deal for workers includes curbs on the use of zero-hours contracts, the extension of collective bargaining, and protection against unfair dismissal from day one of employment.

Wrack made it clear that unions were watching closely to see whether intensive lobbying from business had paid off after it emerged last week that Labour’s plans do not involve a complete ban on zero-hours contracts and that the extension of sectoral collective bargaining will initially be confined to social care.

“We have picked up the press talk about possible rolling back. The message we have had back from the leader’s office is that there is nothing to it,” Wrack said.

“I don’t want to get in a slanging match with Keir Starmer until I see what he is proposing,” Wrack added, “but it would be inept in our view to backtrack on a very popular policy that will win votes and appeal to working-class voters who would traditionally be expected to vote Labour but who have drifted off.

“It is a policy that is necessary in terms of maintaining unity in the Labour party. The leadership shouldn’t just rely on the idea that Labour is the only game in town. People need to have something to vote for other than Keir Starmer who is not Rishi Sunak.”

Wrack said Labour also needed to deliver on its pledge to repeal the 2016 Trade Union Act, which placed curbs on how unions could take industrial action, and minimum service levels, under which unions are forced to maintain public services during strikes.

“I would struggle to see how Keir Starmer could backtrack on these two commitments because he has been so clear about them, but I would never rule anything out with Labour politicians.”

Despite Labour’s strong showing in last week’s elections, Wrack said he detected little enthusiasm for the party because “people are not sure what the policy agenda is other than continuity”.

Wrack said many unions had their annual conferences coming up with the TUC holding its annual congress in September. “If the message is that Labour is rolling back on workers’ rights, then the leadership can expect a hostile reception.

“Rolling back on this would be pretty disastrous for relations with the unions.”

“It is the one thing unions have to sell to Labour voters. You look around and I am not sure what other reason there is to vote Labour.”

“If organised labour comes out strengthened from the early months of a Labour government that alters the political balance after 40 years of attacks on unions. The plans for workers’ rights don’t go far enough but they do start to alter the balance of power in the workplace.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “The new deal will be a core part of Labour’s offer and we will be campaigning on this ahead of the general election.

“Labour’s new deal for working people was agreed at the party’s national policy forum last summer building upon our green paper. Our commitments to bring forward legislation to parliament within 100 days to deliver the new deal and to consult widely on implementation have not changed.”


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