Labour has launched its campaign to make Britain the best place to work, and over the coming weeks we will be setting out our plans to fundamentally change our economy to make Britain work for working people. The theme of the first week of this campaign is security at work.
Insecurity is a longstanding problem for the UK’s 32 million workers, and it has been exposed and accelerated by the pandemic. Weak employment rights and imbalances of power in the workplace have driven financial insecurity, unsafe working practices and lack of worker voice, with devastating consequences for working people, the UK’s economic performance and public health throughout Covid.
The precarious nature of work has resulted in a failure to keep working people safe because of weak health and safety protections and a lack of enforcement. Financial insecurity is endemic, too. In-work poverty is at a record high, with one in six working families in poverty, and 3.6 million Britons in “insecure work” on zero-hours contracts or in other forms of insecure employment, meaning they don’t know when they will work or how much they will earn.
One cause is the different categories of employment status, which allows bad employers to falsely put workers in a category with few rights, as shown by the recent Supreme Court ruling on Uber drivers. As well as denying individuals their rights, this also undercuts good employers.
The growth of the gig economy is one such example, where working people are commonly in bogus self-employment, denied basic rights and protections including the national minimum wage, statutory sick pay and holiday pay. Low-paid and insecure work is experienced unequally, too, with Black, Asian and minority ethnic women twice as likely to be impacted than white workers. These types of exploitative practices have expanded across sectors of the economy that were not previously associated with insecure work, with the practice of fire and rehire having spread like wildfire, forcing people onto worse terms and conditions.
The pandemic has accelerated changes in the world at work, but the rights and protections working people need have not kept pace. Many of us who have enjoyed working at home are now being unnecessarily forced back into the office. A divide has also been exposed, with millions of workers including key workers having no such ability to decide where they work. The need has become clear for genuine flexibility, not one-sided flexibility on the terms of employers, where all workers have a say over when and where they work.
Fair and decent work that provides security improves productivity, economic opportunity, health and wellbeing. As a country, we are at a fork in the road: the government wants to continue with insecure and exploitative employment, while Labour wishes to build a society where everyone is entitled to fair pay, job security and dignity at work. To achieve this, workers must have a comprehensive set of rights and protections and trade unions must be strengthened to ensure they have the ability to represent their members to organise, bargain and win for working people. Labour is committed to delivering those rights and to repealing anti-trade union laws.
Work should be a pillar upon which we can build our lives, not the obstacle that it is for so many. Everyone needs and deserves improved living standards and economic security. That’s why this week Labour will be setting out our plans to ensure everyone is entitled to that security, as part of a new deal for working people.