Starmer defends New Deal rebrand as Unite claims ‘more holes than cheese’

Tom Belger

Labour leader Keir Starmer has again denied any “watering down” of the New Deal for Working People, after Unite general secretary Sharon Graham claimed a new rebranded version of the plans had “more holes in it than Swiss cheese”.

Labour released a 24-page document called “Labour’s Plan to Make Work Pay” on Friday as part of its general election campaign, sub-headed “Delivering a New Deal for Working People”.

It outlines wide-ranging current party policies to deliver the “biggest upgrade to rights at work for a generation”, though the introduction notably vows to “work with employers and workers”, launch a “new partnership with business and trade unions” and “consult fully with businesses, workers and civil society”.

A spokesperson had recently told journalists such a document would be released as a a campaigning tool, but suggested it would consolidate existing policies rather than mark any fresh changes in stance.

A series of rowbacks have already been made to the party’s flagship workers’ rights reforms last year as part of its National Policy Forum, however, sparking criticism from affiliate union Unite, a major financial backer for the party.

The party had appeared to have suffused tensions with unions over U-turn fears at a recent meeting between top party and union figures, with multiple union leaders including Graham seemingly reassured by what they heard in the immediate aftermath.

But now the publication of the document has prompted Graham to hit out at the party once more, warning the plans risk becoming a “bad bosses’ charter”.

She said in a statement: “Working people expect Labour to be their voice. They need to know that Labour will not backdown to corporate profiteers determined to maintain the status quo of colossal profits at the expense of everyone else.”

“The country desperately needs a Labour government, but the party must show it will stick to its guns on improving workers’ rights.”

A spokesperson for left campaign group Momentum also criticised the fact Labour is no longer committed to raising the minimum wage for workers of all ages.

But Christina McAnea, general secretary of another major affiliate union Unison, spoke out to praise Labour’s plans.

“There will be a clear choice in July. A vote for a party that understands the huge struggles employees and their families have been facing. Or one that’s persistently let working people down these past 14 years,” she said.

“Labour’s new deal best illustrates that choice. It will make work fairer and boost the economy too. That’s why its measures are proving popular on the doorstep. Bad employers will no longer be able to outprice good ones by cutting corners and reducing costs by exploiting staff.

“There’ll be an end to dodgy zero-hours contracts. Care workers will get paid travel time and a new fair pay agreement will help boost recruitment in that crisis-stricken sector too.”

PA reports Starmer said during a visit to Staffordshire on Sunday that the plans remained “the most significant set of protections for a generation”.

He said the party had reached agreement with the unions, telling the BBC: “There’s been no watering down….It’s also something which I think employers and good businesses would say, ‘looking at the detail of it, this is what we’re doing in good businesses’.”

A party spokesperson said the New Deal would ensure a “genuine” living wage, deliver secure work, end exploitative zero-hour contracts and fire-and-rehire, and help workers “thrive”.
They added: “The New Deal is a core part of our mission to grow Britain’s economy and raise living standards in every part of the country. Labour will make Britain work for working people.”

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