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Nobody is fooled by Tories' phoney concern for workers' rights

BUSINESS Secretary Greg Clark has dragged his feet in responding to the Matthew Taylor review into modern working practices, setting up a lengthy consultation period before releasing its very modest proposals.

The business secretary pushed out the tired old line of the “highest employment rate on record,” which has been more often not the case since the 14th century Black Death because of an expanding population.

Clark claims that Britain “has a labour market of which we can be proud,” which depends entirely on who the “we” is he’s referring to.

Who could feel pride in a system that delivers an accelerating rate of in-work poverty, with, says the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, four million workers living in poverty?

Given that government ministers drone on constantly that work is the way to escape poverty, the fact that families with at least one person in employment are increasingly living below the breadline ought to give pause to the Tory Cabinet to wonder if their simplistic slogans tell the whole story.

Around one in eight workers has fallen into poverty, says the foundation.

The sharp upsurge of rent arrears in areas where universal credit (UC) is fully rolled out should also have made ministers think again if they were honest in their assessment of UC as a fairer benefit rather than a means of cutting public spending.

It is difficult sometimes to stick a fag paper between Tory minsters’ indifference to poor people’s suffering and their sheer inability to empathise with lives they have never known.

Work and Pensions Minister Justin Tomlinson, for instance, suggested last month that families affected by the UC benefit cap, could “renegotiate their housing costs” by taking in a lodger or moving to another home, as though these were simple remedies for a household living in poverty.

Clark congratulates himself for deciding to give workers details of their rights from the first day in a job, such as eligibility for paid sick leave and other types of paid leave, including maternity and paternity.

But what happens to a worker when an employer fails to honour such commitments or decides that someone who questions too often and talks too much is too much of a liability?

A well-organised union in the workplace can prevent this happening, but union density is not so strong now after decades of anti-union legislation operated by Tory, Liberal Democrat and New Labour governments.

If workers are entitled to know their rights from day one, their recourse to claim those rights in an employment tribunal should also apply for that same date.

The Tories doubled the qualification period from that operated by New Labour.  David Cameron’s coalition with the Liberal Democrats decided to raise the tribunal fees for cases brought by workers to £1,200.

It was frustrated only by the Supreme Court, ruling in favour of public service union Unison’s case that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally.

Over £32 million had to be reimbursed to claimants, but it is hard to calculate the abuses suffered by workers prevented from taking action for lack of the tribunal fee.

The Tories, and their loyal Liberal Democrat sidekicks, viewed the tribunal fee rise as an integral part of their capitalist austerity programme, designed to transfer still further the balance of power from the working class to shareholder dividends.

That process can be reversed when Labour returns to office, promising workplace rights from day one, sectoral collective bargaining, the right to strike in solidarity with other workers and making a real living wage a reality.

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