Trade union leaders and Dodds demand Budget “for our key worker heroes”

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Anneliese Dodds joined trade union leaders and frontline key workers at an online rally organised by the TUC this evening to tell Rishi Sunak that his statement on Wednesday should be a “Budget for our key worker heroes”.

Ahead of the Budget, the group met tonight and called on the government to reverse the planned cut to Universal Credit, the public sector pay freeze and the near-mandatory council tax increases forced on local authorities.

The group took aim at unfair ‘fire and hire’ practices, which employers can currently use to tear up employees’ contracts to reduce their rights and pay, and called on the government to extend Covid economic support “for as long as it takes”.

Echoing comments in a recent speech, Anneliese Dodds told the rally tonight that the last ten years under Conservative governments had left the economy on “shaky foundations” before the pandemic arrived in the country.

“We need a proper plan,” she said referring to the Budget. “We need a plan for a more secure, fair and green economic recovery – supporting the unemployed speedily into work, supporting living standards, supporting jobs and businesses.”

She reminded attendees how the Prime Minister and Chancellor had stood on their doorsteps clapping for key workers but said “now they’re turning their backs on them at the first opportunity”.

Dodds argued the public sector pay freeze is irresponsible, forcing people to cut back on spending taking £1.7bn out of the economy. “We’ll count those effects in lost jobs and in struggling local businesses,” she warned.

“This should be a Budget for our key worker heroes, not one that simply passes them by. By supporting key workers tonight and in the future, we’re all supporting our economic recovery too. Let’s win that pay rise. Let’s reward our heroes.”

Frances O’Grady argued: “Furlough and support for the self-employed would not have happened, in any shape or form, if it were not for the trade union movement. It’s not perfect by any stretch but it’s supported millions of workers.

“And what we’re saying is, for goodness’ sake, don’t pull the rug from underneath those workers’ livelihoods. Don’t do it. Don’t cut support to employers either because we know that that will just trigger even more redundancies.”

The TUC general secretary said a workers’ Budget is needed to create jobs for the future and told those watching that people, young people in particular, are “looking to tomorrow for some hope that they have got a future”.

“There are plenty of jobs that could and should be created. Not least, in our wonderful public services,” she said. “But also if we’re going to cut carbon, if we’re going to reach net zero… then we need to invest, invest for the future.”

“Tomorrow, we’ll learn whether this government truly does care about the key workers who kept us safe and looked after us during this pandemic,” recently elected general secretary of UNISON Christina McAnea said tonight.

She also warned that the Chancellor risks creating a massive increase if he does not extend the furlough scheme and argued “this is not the time to bring in a pay freeze” for the public sector, describing it as “deeply divisive”.

“It’s bad for the economy,” she added. “It doesn’t help the private sector to cut the pay of public sector workers – because I can tell you what my members do if they get a pay rise and I’m sure many unions would say the same.

“Our members don’t go and start buying up housing or investing in stocks and shares. They spend their pay in places in the local community, they buy shoes for their children, they buy goods and services in the local community.”

McAnea told the Chancellor “that’s how you rebuild the economy in this country” and said that cutting public sector pay would benefit nobody. “We’re calling on this government to put economic recovery before ideology,” she told attendees.

“We need a Budget for recovery, a Budget for jobs, a Budget for fair pay – a Budget for fairness to start to address fundamental problems that cause such huge disparity in different parts of communities – and a Budget for public services.”

Unite’s Steve Turner said the country is at a “crossroads” and told those watching the rally that the government now has the opportunity to rebuild “not just from Covid but from decades, actually of underinvestment in our public services”.

“We have to make political choices to do more than simply clap our Covid heroes but to pay them and to pay them properly,” he said this evening. “So that means we can’t return to any sort of business as usual.”

He also argued that “we should increase corporation tax and get that tax on those that have maximised their profits during this crisis”, echoing proposals from John McDonnell and others for a windfall tax on those who have done well in the pandemic.

The comments from the assistant general secretary come as Labour leader Keir Starmer and members of his shadow cabinet have argued against increasing taxes amid reports that the Chancellor could raise corporation tax in the Budget.

LabourList understands that the Labour leadership believes this is not the time for tax rises, though it would look at any proposal to put up corporation tax over the course of the parliament rather than immediately.

“Now is the time for the government to step up,” NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roache said. “To scrap the pay freeze, to reverse the 20% real-terms cost to pay that teachers have seen over the course of the last decade.

“To deliver an economy that really does work for everyone. To end exploitative agency working and protect the vulnerable. To ensure safety in our workplaces, including in our schools and colleges.

“To abide by the law and ensure that employers do so too. And, to tackle inequality, injustice, pay discrimination and to put racial justice at the heart of a national recovery plan that delivers action on inequality.”

Senior GMB organiser Hazel Nolan, who is working on the campaign against the fire and rehire tactics being pursued by British Gas against its staff, told the rally this evening that the dispute is a “fight for all workers”.

Members of the Labour-affiliated trade union went on strike last year after parent company Centrica said it would impose fire and rehire cuts to workers’ pay and terms and conditions on pain of dismissal.

Nolan described fire and rehire as “the most brutal bit of legislation you could possibly use and weaponise against your workforce” and pointed out that the practice used against employees is illegal in many other countries.

The organiser warned that the practice is being increasingly used across sectors and urged solidarity from attendees watching the rally tonight. She added: “When one worker wins, every worker wins.”

Joint NEU general secretary Kevin Courtney expressed his solidarity with the British Gas workers, telling those watching this evening that a “victory for them would be a victory for every working person”.

He urged attendees, and people across the country, not to have “short memories. He reminded them that George Osborne claimed ‘we’re all in this together’, after which the country saw a decade of rising inequality and poverty.

Courtney argued that the government must respond to this pandemic “like the Labour government at the end of the Second World War”, stressing that the country must “invest out of this crisis”.

“Organise, build your union”, he said as he finished. “Help us build the union movement. The union movement has more credibility now than it has had for some time. Help us build the union movement to get our country out of this crisis.”

The government confirmed this evening an extension of the furlough scheme in the Budget on Wednesday, with the government continuing to guarantee 80% of workers’ wages to prevent further redundancies.

Labour has called repeatedly on the government to set out an extension to the support. The party argued tonight that the decision on the scheme should have been confirmed sooner to provide businesses and their staff with certainty.

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson said that announcing the extension the night before the Budget “shows the focus is on Rishi Sunak getting his moment in the sun rather than protecting jobs and livelihoods”.

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