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  • Without workers’ rights legislation, there will be no effective vehicle for delivering necessary reforms in the workplace, letter warns 

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, Zero Hours Justice founder Julian Richer and Living Wage Foundation director Katherine Chapman have today (Thursday) written to the prime minister to call for the government to deliver the employment bill in May’s Queen’s Speech. 

The call comes after reports that the government has now shelved the employment bill, more than two years since the legislation was first promised in December 2019, and following multiple commitments to the bill from ministers. 

Delivering a boost to workers’ rights “was an urgent task in 2019, when a bill was first announced, and “is even more so today” given the impact of the pandemic, the letter states. 

The letter warns that “failing to bring forward an employment bill would leave the government without an effective vehicle to make the necessary reforms to the workplace”. 

In particular, the signatories demand action on the zero-hour contracts when used abusively. 

The TUC says insecure work has become “endemic” in the UK.  The union body estimates that one in nine workers – or 3.6 million people – are in insecure work. This includes more than one million on zero-hours contracts, the great majority of them against their will.  

The Living Wage Foundation also found that a third (32%) of workers are given less than a week’s notice of their shifts.  

The letter concludes that “businesses do best when they treat their workers well”, but says this cannot be achieved without an employment bill – urging the government to reconsider its plans.  

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:  

“Time and time again, the prime minister said he would boost workers’ rights.  

“But more than two years since the employment bill was first promised, Boris Johnson has done nothing to show he is serious about upgrading workers’ rights. 

“Working people can’t wait. They need the employment bill now. 

“One million workers are on zero-hour contracts, more than three million are in insecure work, and the size of the gig economy has almost tripled in the past five years.  

“After P&O, the need to upgrade workers’ rights has never been more urgent.  

“No more excuses – it's time for the employment bill to end the scourge of insecure work and exploitative practices like zero-hour contracts.”  

Julian Richer, founder of the Zero Hours Justice campaign, said:   

“In my lifetime’s experience of businesses, both large and small, I have found a well-treated workforce is crucial to their success.” 

Director of the Living Wage Foundation, Katherine Chapman, said: 

“We know low pay is affecting millions during this cost-of-living crisis, but the other side of this coin is insecure work. Million more workers and families are struggling to make ends meet due to a lack of hours, with many faced with uncertain shift patterns provided at short notice. This makes it impossible for people to plan their lives, and often comes with additional costs.  

“That’s why we need action from both politicians and employers to ensure workers are provided with stable and secure hours alongside a Living Wage.” 

The government has given repeated assurances that it would legislate new workplace protections:  

  • In December 2019 the government said it would bring forward the employment bill to “protect and enhance workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU, making Britain the best place in the world to work.”  

  • In May 2021, business minister Paul Scully spoke of his and the Secretary of State’s “absolute commitment” to an employment bill.   

  • In June 2021, minister Paul Scully reaffirmed the government’s commitment to “bring the Employment Bill through”.   

  • In June 2021 the government promised it would ‘take action against big brands that turn a blind eye to labour abuses‘ in a press release that announced the establishment of a single enforcement agency.  

  • In September 2021 the government promised to ‘tackle shameful tipping practices and ensure all tips go to workers’ - again through new legislation.  

Editors note

Letter in full: 

Dear Prime Minister,   

Employment bill  

We are writing to you as leaders of organisations with a range of perspectives on the world of work to urge you to include an employment bill in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech.  

Your government came to office with a promise to “protect and enhance” workers’ rights and a manifesto pledge to bring forward “measures that protect those in low-paid work and the gig economy”.  

This was an urgent task in 2019, when a bill was first announced, and is even more so today given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on workers, particularly those in insecure forms of work, and on employers.   

Failing to bring forward an employment bill would leave the government without an effective vehicle to make the necessary reforms to the workplace. Many workers would remain in vulnerable working arrangements. Good businesses would be undercut by those prepared to treat workers poorly. And everyone would be left uncertain about progress of government plans in areas from making flexible working the default to the establishment of a single enforcement body.  

We are particularly concerned about uses of zero-hours contracts in ways that are abusive. For example, the Living Wage Foundation recently found that a third (32%) of workers are given less than a week’s notice of their shifts. This rises to half of those on low wages.  

Collective agreements between unions and employers, the Zero Hours Justice’s campaign and the Living Hours accreditation programme all have an important role to play in stopping the abusive use of zero-hours contracts. But these need to be underpinned by robust laws that protect the most vulnerable workers by setting a baseline of standards.   

There remains a strong consensus for reform, reflected in the Low Pay Commission’s proposals on notice periods for shifts and compensation for cancelled shifts. We encourage you to reassess these.  

The Conservative Party manifesto promised to “make the UK the best place in the world to work”. We are strongly of the view that businesses do best when they treat their workers well. This cannot be achieved without the inclusion of an employment bill in the Queen’s Speech. We urge you to reconsider your plans. 

Yours sincerely 

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary 

Katherine Chapman, director of the Living Wage Foundation  

Julian Richer, Zero Hours Justice founder 

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