start again back from 1-9-7-9 when it ALL started to go ‘wrong’

start again back from 1-9-7-9 when it ALL started to go ‘wrong’

INTERNATIONAL
union rights
Page 22
Volume 22 Issue 2 2015
REPORT
!
UK LABOUR LAW
Cameron cloaked
his legislative
program in the
language of
assisting
‘working people’
In reality, the Queen’s Speech unleashed a
rolling programme of attacks on working class
people, of which the attack on trade unions is
only part.
What we wanted.
In the run up to the general election, the
Institute of Employment Rights issued a ten point
Charter of employment law reforms for an incom-
ing government to consider. Such proposals
would help to secure social justice, democracy in
the workplace, a reduction in inequality and the
stimulation of the economy (See Box 1). If imple-
mented those policies would also go some way to
addressing the failure of successive UK govern-
ments to uphold international labour standards.
Box 1:
Labour Law: What we want
1. The right to a decent wage and to a decent
income for those not in employment
2. The effective regulation of zero hours contracts
3. The right of every worker to be protected by a
collective agreement
4. The re-establishment of sectoral collective
bargaining and Wages Councils
5. The re-establishment of a Ministry of Labour
6. The right to strike in accordance with international
law
7. The removal of a qualifying period for unfair
dismissal
8. The restoration of the redundancy consultation
rights
9. The right to legal protection for everyone who
works, regardless of their legal status (‘employee’,
‘self-employed’, ‘agency worker’ etc.)
10. The right of all workers to access to justice,
including the abolition of tribunal fees.
Professor Keith Ewing & John Hendy QC
Were the IER’s demands too high? Since 1979 the
UK has diminished collective rights in favour of
individual rights; the negotiating table was increas-
ingly replaced by the court room as the place to
resolve employment disputes. The last government
ended that by suddenly imposing penal fees on
claimants seeking to take a case to such an extent
that employment tribunals have themselves with 80
percent less work to do. In consequence work-
place disagreements are now typically resolved
neither by collective bargaining nor litigation but
are left to management prerogative.
But was it really too radical to ask an incoming
government to correct the much criticised fault-
lines in the UK’s labour law? As recently as
O
n 7 May 2015 the
!
rst majority Conservative
Government in 20 years took power in the
UK. Just 20 days later, one of the most vin-
dictive pieces of anti-trade union legislation since
Thatcher, was announced in ‘the Queen’s Speech’
(which sets out the government’s legislative pro-
gramme). It is vindictive because, even from the
Tories perspective, further restrictions on trade
unions cannot be justi
!
ed given that, as Tony Blair
long ago and rightly pointed out, the UK already
has the ‘most restrictive laws on trade unions in
the Western world’ (none of which was moderat-
ed by the Labour Party’s 13 years in of
!
ce). Here
we assess some of the implications of that vote
and distinguish the ‘pro-worker’ rhetoric from the
legislative realities.
A disaster waiting to happen
Without a doubt the election result was a dis-
aster on many fronts.
It was a disaster for democracy. The result
exposed the political distortions inherent in the
UK’s
!
rst-past-the-post electoral system. The
Conservatives won a 12-seat majority despite
winning only 36 percent of the votes cast and
only 24 percent of the registered electorate. This
equates to less than 20 percent of those eligible
to register as voters.
It was a disaster for the Labour Party. Labour
failed to expose the true nature of the austerity
agenda or offer a suitably robust, progressive
alternative. It is not surprising therefore that
though working class people, as usual, recorded
many more votes for Labour than for the
Conservatives (41 percent to 27 percent), they
were much less likely to turn out and vote than
upper class people (57 percent to75 percent)
1
. In
consequence, not only did Labour fail to win
back the four million voters they lost during their
13 years of government but they haemorrhaged
their vote in Scotland to the anti-austerity, anti-tri-
dent (missile) voice of the SNP.
Most importantly it was a disaster for working
people and their trade unions. Cameron may
have cloaked his legislative program in the lan-
guage of assisting ‘working people’, but a scant
glance at the detail exposes this fallacy. A
!
ne
example of Cameron’s double-talk was his state-
ment to his
!
rst cabinet:
‘I call it being the real party of working people,
giving everyone in our country the chance to
get on, with the dignity of a job, the pride of a
pay cheque, a home of their own and the
security and peace of mind that comes from
being able to support a family. And just as
important for those that can’t work, the sup-
port they need at every stage of their lives’.
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