UK workers endure some of the longest working hours in Europe. The rise of zero-hour contracts and the gig economy are blighting workers’ lives. Many who are self-employed act as the economic barometer in an ever more insecure and volatile economy, with no rights or protections. Without fundamental change that values workers and puts them first, our economy will only stumble forwards.
As a senior trade union official I witnessed a workplace culture where bullying, work-related stress and long hours were rife. Dignifying workers, taking a zero-tolerance approach to abuse, bullying, harassment and discrimination, and giving staff a real stake in their workplace through trade union organisation, are vital in tackling a pernicious culture that not only damages people but businesses too.
The philanthropist and businessman Joseph Rowntree, a famous son of my constituency of York, noted that “there may be no better way of advancing the objects one has at heart than to strengthen the hands of those who are effectively doing the work that needs to be done”.
Rowntree recognised that if you genuinely value your workers and treat them well, the return will be greater: it improves productivity and people’s lives. Rowntree invested in good quality housing which became the blueprint of the 1919 Housing Act, in education, in healthcare and pensions, as well as sports facilities, a theatre and a park. Over a century ago, he demonstrated how paying decent wages and treating workers well help to build a strong global business. Today, many business leaders would do well to look to Rowntree’s wisdom.
The average Briton will work 3,507 days in their lifetime, spending a significant amount of their waking hours at work. It should be an enriching experience – drawing on the talents and interests of every worker, ensuring workers are rewarded with decent pay, high quality terms and conditions and guaranteed job security. Employers who exploit their workers must always be held to account, but the government could and should do more to ensure businesses work more closely with trade unions to improve workers’ rights.
We also cannot ignore how travel to work effects our climate, and we must ensure that sustainable and accessible transport for all is available. We need flexibility to work for the worker, not just the employer. Those with family, young or old, need to be empowered to make adjustments to help bring the right balances into their lives.
The Tories will never be on the side of workers and trade unions – just look at the Trade Union Act that David Cameron’s government brought in and Boris Johnson is committed to maintaining. We need strong trade unions as much now as we did more than 100 years ago, when they helped to found the Labour Party. Reaching back to their roots as social movements of change, tackling society’s injustices of poverty, inequality and workplace abuse and exploitation. Labour is the party of the workers and we will hold this Conservative government to account every step of the way on its record of failure that not only lets down workers but undermines businesses and damages our economy.