Labour says it’s ‘strengthening’ New Deal despite Unite slamming policy ‘retreat’

© Andrew Skudder/CC BY-SA 2.0

Labour has said it is “strengthening” its New Deal for Working People, just as its leading union backer Unite claimed its workers’ rights reform package had been watered down so much it was “unrecognisable”.

Trade union Unite claims a new Labour document on its New Deal for Working People is a “betrayal’, suggesting the workers’ rights reforms presented are “unrecognisable” from plans originally produced with unions.

Labour has continually denied any recent rowback on its reforms, but Unite leader Sharon Graham claimed on Wednesday the New Deal had now become a “charter for bad bosses”.

The union accused Labour of rowing back on elements of the package, and hit out at a document allegedly issued to trade unions on Monday before they meet leader Keir Starmer next week.

Graham said: “Workers will see through this and mark this retreat after retreat as a betrayal. This new document is turning what was a real new deal for workers into a charter for bad bosses.

“Labour don’t want a law against fire and rehire and they are effectively ripping up the promise of legislation on a new deal for workers in its first 100 days.

“Instead, we have codes of conduct and pledges of consultation with big business. Likewise, the proposal to legislate against zero hours contracts is watered down to almost nothing.

“In truth, this new document is not worthy of discussion. All unions must now demand that Labour changes course and puts the original deal for workers back on the table.”

But a party spokesperson told LabourList on Thursday: “Labour’s New Deal for Working People is a core part of our mission to grow Britain’s economy and raise living standards across the country.

“A Labour government will need to hit the ground running and that is why we have been strengthening the proposals to implement our commitments. If elected we will bring forward legislation within 100 days of entering government.”

Deputy leader Angela Rayner is due to give a speech on the plans on Thursday.

Labour has faced repeated questions recently about whether the New Deal has been watered down. Sources have confirmed some new materials will be published soon about the proposals, though suggested this was about consolidation and repackaging rather than any substantive changes.

A spokesperson told journalists last week nothing had changed since the National Policy Forum last year – but multiple changes were made then. Some are only now attracting significant attention, such as Labour’s acceptance of some zero-hour contracts where workers agree to them.

Labour figures have said recently that they will “bring forward” legislation within 100 days on the New Deal, but not complete legislation on all measures within 100 days.

It is not clear what prompted Graham’s claim that the party does not want to outlaw fire and rehire. One insider told LabourList: “This hasn’t been handled well, but the substance of what was agreed last year is still there and we have gone further on some of the collective stuff. We are definitely still legislating on fire and rehire.”

The party’s final NPF platform pledged to end fire and rehire. It made no mention however of specific plans included in the initial New Deal green paper to legislate to prevent workers being dismissed for failing to agree worse contracts, and ensure union regulations don’t stop unions protecting workers subjected to fire and rehire tactics. But the insider said the tweak did not mean it had been dropped.

It came as Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said that businesses have “nothing to fear” from the party’s plans for workers’ rights in a question-and-answer session with journalists following a speech in the City of London yesterday.

However, she stressed that Labour is “absolutely committed” to delivering the New Deal for Working People “in full”.

Reeves said: “Businesses have got nothing to fear from Labour’s New Deal for Working People. And, of course, we will consult on how to implement these things so that there aren’t any unforeseen, adverse consequences from it.

“But we’re committed to the New Deal for Working People. It’s an important part of our economic offer, both to build a stronger and more resilient economy and to ensure that working people benefit from a growing economy.”

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