The shadow Welsh secretary Owen Smith has made calls for a workplace pledge to protect workers’ rights, as well as making several harsh criticisms of workplace culture and the state of employment in Britain today. Also supporting him for the pledge is Hugh Lanning, the Labour candidate for Canterbury.
The proposed pledge would cover six key areas, as well as abolishing employment tribunal fees which have made it impossible for many employees to hold their employers to account. The details are still quite vague, but what the pledge would hopefully accomplish in each area is:
• Pay: Set out clearly what a worker’s rate of pay with, alongside the national minimum wage and living wage for context. The rate of pay of other workers within the company doing similar jobs would also be given to highlight wage inequality.
• Law: A definition of what is legally expected of the worker and their obligation to the employer, as well as clearly set minimum and maximum working hours.
• Employer: A definition from the employer’s side of what their legal obligation to the employees is, along with information about holiday and parental leave, protection against unfair dismissal etc.
• Dialogue: Information on some kind of worker representation system set up to allow workers to communicate with employers and also a guarantee workers will be consulted about changes to the business.
• Guarantee: Set out support of government support for the workplace pledge.
• Enforcement: Set out options for workers to hold their employers to account if the terms of the pledge is broken.
As it is described, a copy of the pledge would be written up for each business and worker and given to them on their first day of the job.
It would undoubtedly be a welcome guarantee of job security for many workers when several factors have left many struggling. Austerity measures and ruthless business practices such as the prevalence of zero-hour contracts have left many people employed and still vulnerable, not earning the living wage and unsure whether they will lose their job at any moment.
Smith describes the development of these conditions as ‘the immiseration of working people’. He also pointed to the culture of secrecy and ruthless competitiveness in workplaces as leaving many workers miserable, uncertain about their job or position and worried about their unsecure state. Smith blamed the demonisation of workers’ unions as well for undermining workers’ rights and ability to negotiate their own conditions.
Some commentators have pointed out that, despite the pledge clearly having some admirable aims for protecting workers, it is essentially worthless if employers do not opt into it as well. The success of the workplace pledge may very well depend on whether Labour wins the upcoming general election and has the power to implement the pledge more effectively. Nonetheless, it is another example of growing concern and demand for workers’ rights in response to hard times for the last few years.