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Let’s Vote For Workers Rights

On 12th December our country has what is probably the most crucial election in living history, with so many important issues at stake. At present, everything seems to be shrouded by the spectre of Brexit and the potential benefits/pitfalls of its finality, but we are in danger of taking our eye off the ball when it like climate change, our NHS and the future of workers’ rights in the UK, which is the subject that I will dedicate this article to.

It’s just over 4 years since David Cameron stood on the steps of Downing Street, professing that the Tories were now the party of working people, a mantra that was continued by Theresa May and now repeated by the present Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, but where is the evidence? Cameron introduced the 'living wage', proclaiming it would lift millions out of poverty, whilst the reality is that it created a passing bandwagon for unscrupulous employers to jump on, allowing them to cut attendance bonuses, premium payments, overtime rates etc. In reality, this saw many workers earning less than before the new legislation. No new laws, no legal protection, just continued attacks on workers’ pay. After 2 years of May-led inertia, we have Boris talking about protecting workers’ rights but fails to legislate to make it a reality. 

The question is, “is more of the same what we really want, or is there something better that we should aim for?” The answer has to be one that brings real, beneficial change to the lives of millions of workers.

After years of austerity and at a time when a major part of our employment structure revolves around zero-hour contracts, agency labour, Swedish Derogations, the gig economy and widespread poverty pay, we need a government that has the improvement of workers’ rights at its core. If the Tories thought for a single minute about the plight of working people would they allow these oppressive employment practices to continue without hindrance? Would they bring in the most restrictive legislation on workers balloting to take action against their employer, irrespective of the damage inflicted by the employer? 

But there is light at the end of the tunnel, we just need to be riding the right train. We are seeing exploited workers fighting back. For instance, ASDA workers are standing up for themselves after being cruelly threatened with major changes to their contracts of employment, despite working for the biggest and one of the richest employers in the world. Also, my own union (BFAWU) saw the largest strike undertaken by McDonald's workers in their fight for £15 per hour, an end to zero-hour contracts and trade union recognition. No worker should be forced into such drastic action. Yet, when your company counts their profits in £billions, their CEO earns £5500 per hour, they pay little or no tax in this country, and they are still allowed to get away with draconian, oppressive attitudes towards their employees, then our members are left with little choice, but to fight back. 

We need strong trade unions and the return of a government which puts workers at the forefront. But, individually, we change little. So, we will need the biggest recruitment drive to ensure every type of workplace sees the strength of collectivism and the benefits that trade union membership can bring.

We also need to ensure that we get the message out on why we should not be distracted by false promises. The offer from a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party ticks all the boxes on workers’ rights:

  • An end to zero-hour contracts;
  • £10 per hour minimum wage irrespective of age;
  • Access into all workplaces for trade unions;
  • The repeal of all anti-Trade Union legislation within the first 100 days;
  • Full workers’ rights from day one of employment. 

For the first time in our lives we have the chance to see the end of workplace oppression, a return of dignity at work and real worker protection. These are not cheap bribes just to get elected, they are a true reflection of what the Labour leadership has demanded for many years and, now we have the opportunity to make it a reality.

By Ronnie Draper, General Secretary, Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union.