By Conrad Landin
Labour will set up a brand new employment rights ministry alongside a new workers’ protection agency to bang up bad bosses, Jeremy Corbyn pledged at TUC Congress on Tuesday. The Labour leader said the new agency would have “real teeth,” including powers “to enter workplaces and bring prosecutions on workers’ behalf.”
He told delegates in Brighton: “If you’re a worker with a boss who makes you work extra hours for no pay or forces you into dangerous situations, you deserve a government that’s on your side and ready to step in to support you.” He announced that shadow labour minister Laura Pidcock would be made employment relations secretary in an incoming Labour cabinet, with responsibility for “rolling out collective bargaining across the economy, sector by sector.”
Ms Pidcock, who addressed Congress in afternoon, acknowledged that New Labour had “shamefully” failed to repeal Margaret Thatcher’s anti-union laws, meaning that “many working-class people lost confidence about which side this party was really on.” But she said that Labour’s present left-wing leadership “have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to right that wrong, and we will do just that.”
Ms Pidcock, who has emerged as one of Labour’s most powerful voices among the generation who entered Parliament in 2017, vowed: “A Labour government will establish a ministry of employment rights.”The department will be responsible for transforming our workplaces by delivering a huge roll-out of individual and collective rights at work and legislating for enforcement powers to make these rights meaningful.
“Of course, I also understand that the Labour Party can announce some of the most progressive rights for workers that Britain has seen in generations, but without the power to enforce them, they become much more difficult to realise.
“The current government regularly announce that workers will have the right to request this or that — a contract of employment or flexible working — as if that will somehow be good enough, when in reality the employer can consider that request and turn it down with very little scrutiny.”
She said the new workers’ protection agency would be “properly resourced and have the power to enter and inspect workplaces, issue enforcement notices and, in some cases, reinstate unfairly dismissed workers.”
Tribunal rulings currently ignored by bosses could be enforced by this agency, which would act as “a mechanism that good employers can use to stop being undercut by bad employers.”
Mr Corbyn joked that a recent Financial Times report warning that Labour was “determined to shift power away from bosses and landlords and to workers and tenants” meant that the party had been “found out” at last.
“Well, there has been no shortage of rather unkind reporting about our party over the last few years, but this time they’ve got it absolutely right. “The coming general election will be a chance for a real change of direction. “In the next few weeks the Establishment will come after us with all they’ve got, because they know we’re not afraid to take them on.”
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan, whose union represents train drivers, argued that Mr Corbyn’s proposals represented “a turning point in industrial relations in Britain.” He said: “Successive Tory governments have stripped away the rights of working people in a bid to take us back to the 19th century, when unscrupulous mill owners could hire and fire at will.
“Jeremy wants to create a modern 21st-century economy in which the people who work hard every day to create the wealth of this country — by making and selling goods and services — have a say in the way the workplace is run and a share in the rewards to which they are entitled.” (IPA Service)