Labour would increase sick pay, Starmer announces at TUC Congress 2021

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Keir Starmer has used his keynote speech at the Trades Union Congress conference today to announce that a Labour government would guarantee sick pay to all workers – and increase it.

“We have one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe. It’s not good enough. So as well as guaranteeing sick pay, Labour’s new deal will increase it as well,” the Labour leader said in his address this morning.

The pledge to raise statutory sick pay is entirely new for Starmer, never having been announced before. It was not included in Labour’s radical 2019 manifesto, though Jeremy Corbyn did demand it before stepping down as leader.

Minimum statutory sick pay in the UK is £95.85 a week, one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe, and – outside of the Covid era – no payments are made for the first three days.

Two million employees are not eligible for sick pay, as workers only qualify if their average weekly earnings over the previous eight weeks were at least £120 a week.

He added: “Better pay and conditions must come with job security. That’s why we will ban zero-hours contracts and replace them with regular contracts which actually reflect the hours normally worked.”

Labour’s ‘new deal for working people’, first unveiled over the summer, now includes:

  • a guarantee of sick pay for all workers;
  • increased sick pay;
  • a minimum wage of at least £10 an hour;
  • rights for all workers from their first day on the job, including holiday pay, parental leave, protection from unfair dismissal;
  • the right to flexible working and “requesting shifts that fit around family life” from day one in employment;
  • banning ‘fire and rehire’;
  • a ban on zero-hours contracts;
  • ensuring “a greater role for unions in boosting pay with more workers covered by collectively agreed deals”.

Commenting on Starmer’s speech, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Keir Starmer is right to focus on dignity at work. This pandemic has exposed the inequality and insecurity at the heart of our labour market.

“No-one should be pushed into financial hardship if they fall ill at work. Keir today promised that the next Labour government will increase statutory sick pay and make sure everyone has access to it – including the lowest-paid workers.

“During the pandemic, too many couldn’t afford to self-isolate because sick pay is too low or they aren’t eligible for it at all. This badly undermined our public health effort during Covid.

“It’s great to see Keir backing a ban on zero hours contracts and calling for workers across the country to get day one rights at work.”

Starmer also championed the ‘buy, make and sell more here in Britain’ policy today, which he said would see the next Labour government “strive for better prospects and dignity for all workers, not just those with a degree”.

He said this would involve bringing supply chains back to the UK, trade deals that “deliver for British businesses and workers” and “more public contracts should go to British companies big and small”.

The Labour leader talked about his father to explain the importance of the policies, telling Congress: “When I think about a new deal for workers, I think of my dad. He worked on the factory floor all his life.

“Going to work at eight in the morning, home for tea at five, back to work six till ten o’clock at night, five days a week – week in, week out. He did that to provide for our family.”

Later in the speech, he said: “Dignity at work, the theme of this congress, runs through our new deal. This is personal to me.

“Despite being a skilled toolmaker throughout his working life, my dad thought people looked down on him because he worked on the factory floor. He was right about that.”

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