Polling station. Photo by Graeme Robertson/Getty Images
This election is a chance for a new deal for working people: Let’s not waste it
It seems that every election, the parties tell us it’s the most important election for a generation. But this one genuinely could be. Whoever ends up forming the next government, at the top of their in-tray will be striking a new deal with our European neighbours as we leave the EU.
That’s going to be hard any way you look at it, but if it’s going to have any chance of working, it has to be matched by an equal commitment to forge a new deal for the UK’s working people.
The TUC is determined that working people must not end up paying a price for Brexit. We need to get the economy working for workers again.
Fairness at work
Many of our key work rights are underpinned by EU law, from work breaks and family friendly rights to discrimination protections. We’ve already heard voices on the right of business and politics calling for regulations like long hours protections to be cut. We need to commit to keep every single one our current employment rights.
We also need to commit to match new rights coming down the track in the EU, so UK workers don’t fall behind our neighbours. Turning the UK into Europe’s bargain basement labour market will hurt our own people and start a race to the bottom on standards across Europe. Nobody wins.
“I’ve been driving lorries at night, since I left the army 30 years ago. When I started, there was no limit on the hours I could do overnight. I was doing between 60-70 hours per week – which was just unsafe. EU laws limit the amount of hours that I have to work each week which makes the road safer.”
Kevin, long-distance driver
Protection from growing insecurity
And as the world of work changes, we’re going to need new employment laws to protect us. The UK has seen employment growing again, but a huge proportion of that growth has been fuelled by new types of insecure, temporary or low paid work. This is transferring more and more economic risk from companies onto workers themselves – at a time when top executives are rewarding themselves with ever greater shares of the profits.
Zero hours contracts are growing at a frightening rate – likely to pass one million during the next parliament if we don’t see real action on them, backed up by enforceable legal rights, not warm words and voluntary schemes.
“I work in a top London hotel. The problems we face in our industry are a lot of zero hours contracts, a lot of forced overtime. We have a lot of young workers, who can often be the most easily exploited and easily disposable to employers.”
Building great jobs, right across the UK
And we need to see government taking a much more active role in building the industries and jobs we’ll need if the UK is to thrive in the years ahead after we leave the EU. High tech companies offering skilled jobs with better pay. National infrastructure projects to make it all fit together. None of that happens by chance, and the recent years’ approach of leaving it to the market, whilst our strategic industries die off or get bought up overseas, can’t be allowed to continue.
“I work in high tech manufacturing with a world-leading firm, but these are challenging times for our sector. We want more support for collaborative research programs and an investment strategy to provide the quality, well paid jobs we’ll need for the future.”
Mark, senior union rep in manufacturing & works council chair
For all the talk of a Northern Powerhouse, we’ve seen London and the South East swallow up a greater share of the economy every year for a decade now. By 2022, London and the South East will account for a staggering 40% of total UK GDP. We don’t want to do down the areas that are doing well, but we need to raise up those that are in increasing danger of being left behind. The damage done to huge areas of the country after careless deindustrialisation in the 80s mustn’t happen again.
Britain still needs a pay rise
And all of this is hitting our living standards hard. At the TUC, we’ve been saying that “Britain needs a pay rise” for 5 years already, and most people still haven’t seen theirs. We’re still stuck in the longest pay squeeze on record. Average real earnings won’t be back to their pre-crash levels until the end of the next parliament.
Some of this is self-inflicted. The government’s policy of holding down pay for public servants has meant real hardship for many. Teachers, firefighters and council workers have lost 10% of the value of their wages already as prices have risen, but wages stayed frozen. It’s leading to widespread demoralisation in public services. The number of nurses quitting the profession at the moment has landed the NHS with a huge bill for more expensive agency staff to plug the gaps.
“Over the years, there’s been a 1% pay rise for 7 or 8 years now. And it’s the equivalent of a pay cut, year after year, after year. Food, petrol, housing, everything is going up. Something’s got to give.”
Sue, leisure centre receptionist
But the pay squeeze is being felt everywhere. Average pay rises will be lower than inflation again next year, adding to the strain on household budgets. The average worker is £1,200 worse off in real terms than they were in 2008. As personal debt rises past the levels we saw just before the crash, this can’t go on much longer.
So when politicians tell us this general election is an important choice, let’s hold them to it. Few of us expected or wanted this election, but now that it’s here it’s a chance to press all the parties on exactly what they’re intending to do for workers.
And it’s a chance for us to show whoever wins this week that working people aren’t willing to put up with a raw deal on jobs and living standards. We’ll work to hold our new government to their promises and to make sure that as well as a new deal with the EU, we get a new deal for Britain’s workers. Our country won’t succeed in the world unless we all succeed together.