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Union anger at absence of Employment Bill from Queen’s Speech

·4-min read

Unions accused the government of “rowing back” on its promise to boost workers’ rights, after the absence of an Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech.

One union leader said industrial action could not be ruled out over the “failure” to offer civil servants a pay rise.

The TUC said that in 2019, the Government promised it would bring forward a new Employment Bill to improve people’s rights at work.

Pressure has been mounting in recent weeks for legislation to outlaw practices which unions say are cutting workers’ pay and conditions.

A series of disputes have flared this year over claims of a “fire and rehire” culture in companies.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We can’t build back better from this crisis unless we improve pay and conditions at work.

“But the Government has rowed back on its promise boost to workers’ rights by not bringing forward its long overdue Employment Bill.

“This pandemic has brutally exposed the terrible working conditions and insecurity many of our key workers in retail, care, and delivery face.

“We need action now to deal with the scourge of insecure work, not more dithering and delay.

“Zero-hours contracts and other exploitative working practices like fire and rehire must be banned once and for all.

“Every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect at work.”

TUC polling published last month suggested that more than four out of five people want all workers to have the same basic rights.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said: “The Government have repeatedly promised ‘the biggest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation’ but today that promise has been dropped with no Employment Bill and nothing on measures to increase flexible working.

“We are at a pivotal point in the future of work in the UK, with remote working set to increase exponentially post-pandemic, new practices such as remote surveillance affecting millions and a crisis in self-employment.

“These new challenges require workers’ rights fit for the 21st century, including new rights on flexible working and a Right to Disconnect from work.

“The Government have missed the opportunity to show leadership and shape the future of work over the coming years, and it is workers who will pay the price.”

Mark Serwotka, leader of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), which represents civil servants, said: “The much-vaunted levelling-up agenda has been proven to be a lie for thousands of civil servants today.

“PCS members have delivered Universal Credit, the furlough scheme, kept the justice system running and made sure our borders are operating safely throughout the pandemic.

“Yet the failure to offer them a proper pay rise is a national outrage and shows the Government’s own staff are not a priority, despite the key role they have played in keeping the country going.

“We will now consider all our options and we are not ruling out industrial action.”

Howard Beckett, Unite’s assistant general secretary said: “Working people will be bitterly disappointed that the Prime Minister has failed to use this opportunity to outlaw fire and rehire.

“Instead of desperately needed protection from what the Government itself calls a bully boy practice, all workers will get from Boris Johnson’s Government are warm words.”

Warren Kenny, GMB acting general secretary, said: “With the pandemic easing, this was the Government’s opportunity to show it could deliver for working people.

“We have been fobbed off repeatedly by ministers with promises to level up workers’ rights with an Employment Bill. Well, the Bill is still missing in action.

“The Government promised to make the UK the best place in the world to work, while it is leaving bosses free to use nefarious tactics like fire and rehire with impunity.”

Helen Barnard, director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “We are deeply concerned that providing security for low-paid workers was not a priority.

“The Government has repeatedly committed to levelling up our country, but with one in eight workers trapped in poverty and many of them hardest hit by the pandemic, many will be in disbelief there was no bill to protect them announced today.”

Downing Street has insisted legislation to protect workers’ rights will be introduced “when the time is right”, citing the pandemic as the reason for a delay.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’re committed to bringing forward an Employment Bill to protect and enhance workers’ rights as we build back better from the pandemic.

“Through this legislation we are determined to build a high-skilled, high-productivity, high-wage economy that delivers on our ambition to make the UK best placed in the world to work and grow a business.

“We will introduce the Employment Bill when the time is right given the profound effects the pandemic is having on the economy and the labour market. In the meantime we’re taking and have taken unprecedented but necessary steps to support businesses and protect jobs and we will continue to do so.”