GOVERNMENT infrastructure investment is “vital” if it wants to stave off a risk to jobs following Brexit, the labour movement warned yesterday. The latest employment figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the number of people out of work fell in the first three months of the referendum. Currently, 1.64 million people are unemployed — 52,000 down over the quarter, and 207,000 down compared with a year ago, giving a jobless rate of 4.9 per cent.
However, the number of people on zero-hours contracts, where workers do not know if they will be called in to work, is climbing — from 200,000 in 2013 to 500,000 today.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady (pictured) said the job figures were good news for workers but pointed out that the Bank of England has warned of a risk to jobs from Brexit.
“The government should heed that warning, and take action so that working people don’t pay the price for leaving the EU. “That means seriously investing in infrastructure all over the UK. Ministers should give Heathrow the green light for a new runway, deliver on high-speed rail and embark on a national programme of housebuilding.
“Keeping unemployment down after Brexit will be a real challenge. The government must act urgently to prevent a future collapse in the jobs market.”
Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams warned that our economy under the Tories was “over-reliant on low-paid, insecure work, with sluggish long-term pay and growth and employment rates regionally unbalanced.
“For some groups for example disabled people, the employment gap is actually increasing.”
In a separate TUC study for the Low Pay Commission, the union organisation called for a national minimum wage increase, saying that high company profits proved it was affordable.
The net rate of profit in British-owned companies is now 13 per cent, the highest in nearly 20 years. The service sector, which employs many workers on the minimum wage, sees profits of 19 per cent — the highest since records began.
“The combination of large profits in the service sector and high employment shows that employers can afford a pay rise for minimum wage workers,” said Ms O’Grady.
The Low Pay Commission is an independent body that advises the government about the national minimum wage.
The current national minimum wage is set at £7.20, and the commission will recommend a new rate to the government in April 2017.