Unions warn Labour not to ‘water down’ New Deal for Working People

According to newspapers reports, Labour is responding to lobbying from business groups to adjust some of its workers' rights policies

3 May 2024| News

Several unions have issued warnings to the Labour Party not to dilute its proposed New Deal for Working People, after it was strongly mooted in the Financial Times that the party was backtracking on previous commitments.

Responding to the newspaper reports, Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, said:

“Choosing May Day to give notice of watering down your promise to overhaul one of the worst sets of employment rights in Europe is beyond irony. If Labour do not explicitly recommit to what they have already pledged, namely that the New Deal for Workers will be delivered in full within the first 100 days of office, then a red line will be crossed.

Labour’s vow to delivering a straightforward right of access for trade unions, and a much-simplified route to recognition and therefore the right to negotiate, is the litmus test for Unite. It’s a political non-negotiable”

A spokesman for the GMB union said that working people were “desperate for change” and it expected the pledges to be honoured.

“Labour’s New Deal for Working People was agreed at the party’s national policy forum last summer. Keir Starmer is clear about the importance of this agreement and GMB looks forward to it being honoured.”

Personnel Today report:

“Much of the suspicion from unions centres on Labour’s commitment to ban zero hours working – a form of employment for about 1.1 million people in the UK.

The New Deal stated: “Labour will ban zero hours contracts and contracts without a minimum number of guaranteed hours. We will also ensure anyone working regular hours for twelve weeks or more will gain a right to a regular contract to reflect those hours normally worked.”

But, according to media commentary, the new position is that Labour will not place an outright ban on all zero-hour contracts. Instead, the policy will recognise that some people appreciate the flexibility of such contracts. However, a duty will be placed on employers to provide contracts based on the hours people have worked for the preceding 12 weeks.

A Labour spokesman insisted that the New Deal was still “a core part of Labour’s offer” to the country. “We will be campaigning on this ahead of the general election,” the spokesman said. “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.”

The party has signalled to the press that its revised plans would simply reflect decisions made at the national policy forum. This is likely to include further consultation on its plan to create a “single status” for all workers except those who are genuinely self-employed and plans for a review of parental leave within the first year of a Labour administration.”

Responding to the media speculation, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said:

“Any dilution of the New Deal for workers is wholly unacceptable. Labour must not bend the knee to corporate greed and instead find its voice and values by representing the interests of working people in government. The New Deal for workers is popular amongst trades unionists and is an asset at the ballot box.

“Working people need a Labour government that will protect them from the excesses of business, not one that kowtows to the vested interests of the super-rich. Any attempt to water down this popular policy will be met with a robust response from the entire trade union movement.”

PCS general secretary Fran Heathcote also criticised the alleged move to dilute Labour’s workers’ rights package. She said that “any government, but especially a Labour government with a likely large majority, should be strengthening workers’ rights, their pay and their terms and conditions”. She called reports a “major blow” because of the lack of commitments to addressing low pay and collective bargaining – two key issues for PCS members.

Aslef’s Mick Whelan warned he would be “incredibly angry” if Labour changed its package of workers’ rights.

“I would be incredibly angry,” he told The Mirror. “We have agreed the New Deal. It was done and dusted. When you make an agreement, you don’t renege on it. It goes ahead as planned.” He insisted the New Deal must be on the statute book within the promised 100 days of coming to power, but conceded that implementation could take longer because of necessary consultations that would follow.