Worker’s new deal in first 100 days

Maria Exall says Labour’s plan for workers could be transformative

The New Deal for Working People is the strongest offer on workers’ rights from the Labour Party for a generation. Implemented effectively it has the potential to rebalance  power in the world of work and strengthen Trade Union organisation in the UK. This is important change in itself, but it is also necessary if we are to have a transformative Labour Government

The New Deal proposals arose from a working party coordinated by Andy McDonald with all the Labour affiliated Unions when he was Shadow Employment Minister. These proposals were presented by Angela Rayner to the 2022 Labour Party Conference, where Keir Starmer committed to introducing legislation within 100 days of a Labour Government. The New Deal was formally adopted at the 2023 Labour Party Conference following the National Policy Forum earlier in the year. The “Make Work Pay” paper issued this May is the New Deal explained for a general audience and for use in the General Election.

The vast majority of the commitments in the original New Deal are in the Make Work Pay document and  represent significant progressive change. The next stage is to put these commitments into legislation. While there will be consultation on the implementation of the changes in employment legislation, commitments in the New Deal reflect the experiences of Trade Unions organising in the workplace, and close obvious loopholes employers could exploit.

The Labour leadership has promised to repeal the 2023 Minimum Service Levels legislation and the 2016 Trade Union Act that introduced undemocratic balloting restrictions on strike action, as well as other anti Trade Union law incompatible with the rights under the New Deal.

There are key areas in the New Deal which provide a platform for further change. Fair Pay Agreements for employees in social care will show a way forward to extend collective bargaining across other sectors. The demands in the New Deal for the ending zero hours contracts would stop the spread of casualisation and the “gig” economy as all workers will have the right to a contract that reflects the actual hours they work. Strengthening the rights to Union consultation on redundancies, alongside improved rights of access to the workplace for Unions to recruit and gain recognition for collective bargaining, would deal with the fire and rehire scenarios we have seen in P&O and other rogue employers.  

It is no secret that some (but not all) UK business leaders are concerned about many aspects of details in the New Deal, and this has already been a feature of press speculation.  However, there is a wider case for raising the bar on workers’ rights that is compelling and can be advanced by a new majority Labour Government. This case should focus on economic and social equality in the workplace, but also the environmental, economic and political sustainability of our country.

Firstly, productivity gains can be achieved by turning away from the market fundamentalist approach to the labour market which promotes a race to the bottom on terms and conditions. This and investment in improved skills training and more career pathways, including proper apprenticeships, is in the interests of all who depend on a prosperous economy in the UK.

Secondly, public investment and changed remits and protocols on regulation for critical infrastructure and the essential services provided by utilities, along with insourcing and strategies on public procurement, can create decent paid secure jobs spread across all regions of the UK.

Thirdly, promoting good work brings benefits to society in general. It is not just the Trades Unions who are concerned about low pay, in work poverty and the lack of opportunities for decent work in local economies.  Anyone who cares about our crumbling social fabric is also concerned.

Fourthly, we need secure work to  prepare for the challenges of the future including climate change and new technologies. The Unions in the energy sector have plans on a just transition to Green jobs. The TUC and individual Unions are devoting time and effort to deal with the development of surveillance technologies and AI. The TUC has recently launched an AI Bill. These sectors will require new employment rights tailored to working in the increasingly virtual world.  

Fifthly, we live in a globalising world, though of course the UK economy has been globalised for hundreds of years. The future of the world of work in the UK is connected to effective international labour rights – for those who work for multinational companies and those involved in global supply chains amongst others. Supporting International labour standards and the reigning in of tax avoiding employers, is essential for economic sustainability.

Lastly, we have to get our heads around the reality that over a billion people will be on the move because of climate change in the next decades and this, together with the effects of economic inequality and wars, means migration on an unprecedented scale. All workers need rights wherever they come from and wherever they are going. A post Brexit consensus on defending borders and a Blue Labour approach to immigration is insufficient to meet this challenge.

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