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Unions press workers' rights offensive after Tory retreat

WORKERS need more and better rights, the trade union movement says today after the government abandoned its planned attack on working hours and holiday pay.

Unions breathed a collective sigh of relief yesterday when Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng signalled that a “review” of legislation on working hours and holiday pay would be shelved following massive labour movement pressure.

But the urgent need to force the government to honour its so far empty pledge to “level up” was put into stark relief when the TUC revealed that a quarter of all workers in Britain – some 7.5 million people – have no protection against unfair dismissal.

Current law requires workers to be employed for two years to qualify for some protection against unfair sacking, but TUC analysis shows that one worker in four does not have what should be a basic right for all, from day one of employment.

In some sectors, the situation is worse – nearly half of hospitality workers (45 per cent), and a third (32 per cent) of those in retail, wholesale or vehicle repair do not qualify.

Young and black workers are also less likely to be covered, with 56 per cent of 20 to 24-year-olds, 40 per cent of 25 to 29-year-olds and a third of workers from ethnic minorities falling outside the two-year qualification.

Even cutting the qualifying period back to one year – it was doubled by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in 2012 – would extend protection against unfair dismissal to 3.6 million workers, the TUC says.

“The government must do everything possible to stop mass unemployment,” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said.

“This includes strengthening protections at work so people can’t be sacked unfairly. No-one should be treated like disposable labour.

“People shouldn’t have to wait for two years to be protected from unfair dismissal. There should be day-one rights for everybody.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Parents and the low-paid will breathe a sigh of relief that the Tories are not yet coming for their rights. The epidemic of low pay and insecure work in this country are the real problems, not the basic rights of working people.

“Kwasi Kwarteng now has to put his money where his mouth is. If he wants to improve the lot of UK workers, then pick up the phone.  We've got a list of desperately needed workers’ rights ready to go. 

“He could start by outlawing the appalling fire-and-rehire practice that is laying waste to workers’ wages across the country and fix sick pay so that being unwell and unable to work is not a sure path to poverty.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It would be an absolute disgrace if the real losers at the back end of the pandemic were the very low-paid workers who have kept Britain ticking over.

“They are the same workers whose rights are notoriously precarious and RMT will continue to work across our movement to ensure that no-one is left behind.”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The government's announcement that it’s scrapped the review into rights at work is a step in the right direction. 

“But public-service workers need assurances, not hollow promises, from ministers. After a decade of attacks on jobs and pay, they’ll rightly be concerned that their rights and protections are at risk.”

The government promised in 2019 that it would bring forward a new employment Bill to improve people’s protections at work, but there has been no sign of the legislation.

The TUC is also calling on the government to ban zero-hours contracts and create genuine two-way flexibility by giving workers a default right to work flexibly.

In addition, it is urging ministers to create good-quality jobs by fast-tracking £85 billion of spending on green infrastructure and establishing a national recovery council to steer the drive for post-Covid economic revival.

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