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Monday, 15 May 2017

Theresa May attempts to woo Labour voters with new deal on workers' rights

Written by David Hughes

Theresa May is unveiling a "new deal for workers" including protections for people in the "gig economy", a statutory right to leave for those who need to care for a family member and a commitment to further increases in the national living wage.

In a further sign of the Prime Minister's drive to woo Labour voters, Mrs May will set out what she claims is the "greatest expansion in workers's rights by any Conservative government".

The package includes measures to protect workers' pensions in the wake of the BHS scandal and a guarantee European Union rights will be protected in the Brexit process.

Details of the plans will be published in the Conservative Party manifesto this week, but measures will include:

  • The national living wage for workers aged 25 and over, currently £7.50, will rise in line with average earnings until 2022
  • A new statutory right for workers to receive information about key decisions affecting their company's future
  • A new right to request leave for training purposes
  • A right to leave for workers after the death of a child.

The new protections for workers in the so-called "gig" economy, such as drivers for Uber and internet delivery firms, follow a review set up by the Prime Minister led by Matthew Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair.

Other measures in the plans include representation for workers on company boards, although unions are likely to be disappointed that the proposals fall short of forcing firms to have employees in the boardroom.

The plans will ensuring that listed companies create stakeholder advisory panels, designate an existing non-executive director as the employee representative, or directly appoint a worker representative to the board.

Visiting a training facility in southern England, Theresa May will say: "I said I would use Brexit to extend the protections and rights that workers enjoy, and our manifesto will deliver exactly that.

"Our plans, backed up with strong and stable leadership, will be the greatest expansion in workers' rights by any Conservative government in history.

"By working with business, reducing taxes and dealing with the deficit we have delivered steady improvements to the economic prospects of working people.

"Now is the time to lock in that economic growth and ensure the proceeds are spread to everyone in our country.

"There is only one leader at this election who will put rights and opportunities for ordinary working families first.

"The choice next month is clear: economic stability and a better deal for workers under my Conservative team, or chaos under Jeremy Corbyn, whose nonsensical policies would trash the economy and destroy jobs."

The package of reforms includes changes to the Equalities Act to extend protections from discrimination to those suffering fluctuating or intermittent mental health conditions.

There will also be new returnships, internships for people coming back into the labour market after an absence such as parenthood or a period of caring for a relative.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "It is good news that the Prime Minister accepts the importance of the rights we have derived from the EU, but there is no way that working people can rely on the rest of her party feeling the same way.

"Already there are those on her benches itching to scrap basic protections, like the working time directive, which keep workers and the public safe but are decried as needless red tape by many hard right Tories."

GMB union general secretary Tim Roache added: "I'm sure there will be plenty of fanfare that the Conservatives want to try and be nice to workers, but the 'greatest extension of workers rights by a Tory Government' frankly wouldn't be that hard to achieve given recent history.

"GMB members will believe it when they see it."

Labour campaign chief Andrew Gwynne said the Prime Minister was "taking working people for fools".

"Theresa May and her Tory Government have failed to stand up for workers; with hundreds of thousands not being paid the money owed to them, thousands unable to get their case against their employer heard and hundreds of complaints of employment agency malpractice going un-investigated," he said.

"The Tories have spent the last seven years prioritising the few, opposing Labour's proposals to give workers more rights and overseeing wage stagnation which has left people worse off."

Liberal Democrat former business secretary Sir Vince Cable said: "The Conservatives tried to ban workers from striking and were blocked by the Liberal Democrats in government.

"It's clear they aren't the party of workers' rights and that you can't trust them to care about you and your family."

British Chambers of Commerce director general Adam Marshall said businesses would be worried about the prospect of "costly or bureaucratic new obligations, no matter how well-intentioned" while Mike Cherry, national chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses, said new employment regulations "must be backed up with proper support for smaller businesses".

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green denied that the Conservatives had watered down their commitment to put workers on company boards.

Companies would be able to have a workers' advisory committee rather than direct board representation for employees, under the plans unveiled by the Tories.

"There are three options that companies can choose - either a direct representative or designated non-executive director, or a workers' advisory committee," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Those will get the voices of workers into the boardroom."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) John Stillwell / PA Wire.