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Building worker power

Essays on collective rights 20 years after the Wilson and Palmer case established the right to be represented by a trade union
Report type
Research and reports
Issue date
Foreword – Angela Rayner, MP

By Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party & Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work

The scourge of P&O’s fire-and-rehire tactics this year on top of a decade of real-terms pay cuts reminds us how the system has been stacked against working people for far too long.

Trade unions provide the best opportunity for workers to come together and defend themselves collectively against bad employers and negotiate decent working terms and conditions.

But due to hostile laws and the weakening of employment rights overseen by successive Conservative governments; the rules have too often been rigged in favour of bad bosses and against working people.

Trade unions demonstrated their enduring value and essential role during the pandemic – winning the furlough scheme, negotiating safe working practices, and preventing redundancies.

A strong union presence also means better conditions for workers over the longer term, with unionised workplaces more likely to provide decent pay, good training, and benefits such as holiday and sick pay. Good employers recognise the role of trade unions and that innovation and a collective voice at work can go hand in hand.

But as things stand, bad bosses can get away with bad behaviour.

Earlier this year, P&O suddenly sacked 800 workers and used its deep pockets to buy itself out of consulting with unions on how to reduce job cuts. As a result, unionised workers on decent salaries were replaced by agency staff on as a little as £1.81 an hour.

The fact of the matter is opportunistic bosses use fire-and-rehire to cut pay and move workers onto insecure contracts because the law is weak and because too many workers don’t have a union to help them fight back.

Wages have also been at a standstill for more than a decade, leaving working people at breaking point and exposed to soaring bills and spiralling prices.

This needs to change. It is time to breathe new life back into our movement, restoring the power of collective bargaining and giving unions the ability to recruit and organise workers.

The Trade Union Act 2016, which included complicated and onerous rules around industrial action designed to hamper unions at every turn, must be repealed. Trade union legislation needs to also be updated so it is fit for a modern economy, including allowing online voting.

Next, we need to make sure sectors have a set of minimum standards - negotiated between the very people who know how their sector works best.

That is why Labour will introduce Fair Pay Agreements in sectors, starting in the social care sector where terms and conditions are a national disgrace.

Negotiated between worker and employer representatives, these will create a “floor” of pay and conditions across industries. They will help to stop exploitative employers undercutting good ones and will give working people a voice.

Labour will also make sure that workers get to know about the benefits of being in a union and we will simplify the process of union recognition, establishing a reasonable right of entry to organise in workplaces.

This will include ending the current complexity and removing barriers to workers being collectively represented by a recognised trade union in their workplace.

This important TUC collection shows the progress that can be made by strong union organising and a robust legal strategy.

But to be at their most effective unions need a level playing field that allows them to fight for their members. Britain deserves better.

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