FIRST IT WAS “tough on immigration”. Now it’s “workers’ rights”. Tory boss Theresa May is angling for working class votes across the Midlands and the North of England as she attempts to win a mandate for five more years of austerity misery.
The Tories are traditionally seen as the anti-workers party, having spent a generation imposing ever tougher restrictions on what workers can do to defend themselves while making it easier for employers to turn the screws. The new proposals in the Tory manifesto don’t bring any significant change – except that the headline proposal will make things much worse.
This is “the biggy”: allow workers to take up to a year’s leave to care for a sick relative. The catch here is that the leave would be unpaid. Instead of the NHS and Local Authorities employing people (which would boost the economy) to care for elderly or sick relatives, workers are expected to give up their jobs and their incomes and do the caring for free. It’s a new kind of privatisation carried out on a micro scale replicated thousands of times.
Some relatives won’t need full-time care, but the proposal has no provision for workers to ask to reduce their hours rather than quit altogether (which could have been done, building on Labour’s introduction of the right to ask for reduced hours for “family friendly” reasons). Who will fund the re-training necessary for carers returning to work after such a long absence? (Maternity leave includes provision for mothers to return to work gradually so they can familiarise themselves with workplace changes.) What happens if the relative still needs care after a year?
Any “carers’ leave” is bound to be taken up more by women far more than men, not least because women tend to bring home the lower wage packet (Labour supports equal pay audits to help deal with this). The whole vision harks back to the 1950s, when women were supposed to stay at home and do all the domestic work and caring. Call this carers’ leave? They might just as well call it “women – back to the home with you all!”
Retain all workers’ rights currently guaranteed by EU law
Keeping the rights which workers have already is hardly an advance. Many of these measures are popular with Tory voters (e.g., paternity leave) and employers are used to them – so they cost nothing. Ditching the rights would make the Tories look like the “nasty party”, which May has always tried to avoid. Labour would also retain these rights – and go further, introducing new bank holidays.
Include worker representation on company boards
Once a worker rep becomes a board member, he or she is bound by company law – which requires them always to put the interests of shareholders first, not workers. A single workers’ rep is not going to outvote the other board members and, when it comes to reporting back to the workers, will be restricted by board confidentiality. What makes a real difference to workers is when the employer has to recognise a bona fide trade union, and negotiate with it. The Tories won’t make it any easier for that to happen.
Pay cuts for all
The Tories are presenting their proposals on the national living wage for the over-25s (it will rise in line with average earnings until 2022) as an increase. However, inflation is on the increase and wages are not. There’s every chance that “increases” linked to wages will see the living wage cut in value during a Tory Parliament.
It’s not all bad, though.
Statutory bereavement leave (child deaths)
This is a brilliant idea: that parents should be able to take leave if they suffer that unimaginable horror of the death of a child. Will it be paid leave? We don’t know. Nonetheless, it’s such a good idea it’s hard to imagine why the Tories have only just noticed it and did not introduce it during their last six years in government.
The Tories promise to protect legal loopholes which mean that companies can go bust and duck out of their pension responsibilities. This is a very necessary move – and, again, it is a shame the Tories did not close those loopholes six years ago. Certainly that’s what the former BHS workers would say, as they look at how much pension they have lost.
Labour dismissed the proposals, saying the Tories were “taking working people for fools”. Indeed they are.
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