So many people’s working lives are now dominated by low pay, insecurity and powerlessness. It’s a sign of our broken system that many people – and not just the lowest earners – are forced to top up their wages with debt, just to cover their living costs.
As our economy has flatlined, wages have stagnated. People are, on average, paid less than they were ten years ago. This is a scandal that must end. But as the Tories are on the side of bad bosses who have exploited, ripped off and dehumanised workers, it just gets worse under their rule.
The richest few are pouring money into the Conservative Party this election because they don’t want any change – the system is working just fine for them. But for millions of people, the workplace is dangerous, exploitative and dehumanising.
To fight back, we need to give workers the confidence and the tools to speak out. That means developing a plan to organise workers across workplaces, so that trade unions become a key part of a healthy employment relationship. We want democracy in the workplace so that having a say at work becomes part and parcel of your working life.
Our huge expansion of employment rights builds on individual rights to a place where workers have stronger collective rights. At the moment, our workplaces are atomised, with the growth of the gig economy, from zero-hour contracts and bogus self-employment, preventing people from being able to assert their rights. It’s a bewildering array of relationships, making it difficult even for workers to find out what their rights actually are.
That’s why our work manifesto simplifies things, creating a single definition of worker and extending employment rights to every worker from day one. It sets out how Labour will deliver the biggest extension of workers’ rights the UK has ever seen, from banning zero-hour contracts and ending poverty pay to enforcing new rights through a workers’ protection agency. And it is absolutely vital that we do this. Too many companies are getting away with not just exploitative but outright inhumane practices.
Take Amazon. Its chief executive, Jeff Bezos, is the richest person in the world, but the company is known worldwide for union-busting. The 30,000 people employed across 16 warehouses in the UK are forced to endure appalling health and safety standards, low pay and extreme workloads. Shockingly, ambulances were called to an Amazon warehouse once every two days last year, with staff breaking bones, collapsing and suffering serious falls. Employees have reported targets being so horrific they have to use plastic bottles to urinate in instead of going to the toilet.
Such utter disregard for the welfare of workers is not limited to Amazon. Workers at Sports Direct were not paid the national minimum wage and were penalised for taking short breaks to drink water or for taking time off work when ill. There are even reports that a worker gave birth in a toilet cubicle because she was so afraid of missing a shift.
We will put an end to this. We’ll call time on insecure and unsafe work that leaves people without the rights and dignity they deserve. And we’ll end discrimination in the workplace that leaves women vulnerable to harassment and unequal pay. Labour is the only party that is committed to eradicating in-work poverty within the next parliament.
We’ll take on bad bosses and exploitative employers with the biggest expansion in workers’ rights the UK has ever seen. Our transformative programme for workers will give people real power, respect and dignity at work, benefiting the thousands of good employers and changing the culture of work entirely. That’s real change.