Unions pour scorn on Theresa May’s conversion to workers’ champion

Theresa May speaking Conservative Party Conference, Birmingham, 2018 Theresa May speaking Conservative Party Conference, Birmingham, 2018 © Jess Hurd/reportdigital.co.uk

Unions have reacted with cynicism to Theresa May’s announcement she is considering giving extra protections for workers’ rights in order to win support for her withdrawal agreement.

In a bid to win Labour support for her Brexit deal, the Prime Minister yesterday said she would strengthen workers’ rights. She personally telephoned Unite general secretary Len McCluskey and GMB general secretary Tim Roache to win them over.

It didn’t work, with Tim Roache tweeting: “After nearly 3 yrs, glad PM finally picked up the phone. I was crystal clear about GMB’s position – her deal is a bad deal and flaky assurances on workers’ rights won’t cut it. What’s clear now is more time is required. We need to extend Article 50 and ultimately it is the public who must have the final say on Brexit.”

Before the phone call, Tim Roache said: “The government has systematically refused to engage with trade unions over workers’ rights and is now trying to buy off MPs with legally unenforceable tweaks that are not worth the paper they are written on.

“These assurances are meaningless at best, and at worst a cynical attempt to use workers’ rights as a bargaining chip for self-preservation. To be clear – this doesn’t guarantee workers a single thing. Any MP who thinks this is enough to make a bad deal good needs to have a serious word with themselves..”

Other unions were similarly unimpressed. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This amendment makes no change to a bad deal for working people’s jobs and rights. We’ve been clear that what working people need is a long-term, binding guarantee that their rights will keep pace with those across Europe. The doesn’t deliver that. It doesn’t even provide an adequate guarantee for the rights we already have.

“And since the political declaration isn’t legally binding, there’s nothing to stop a future government from ignoring it altogether. The Prime Minister has talked a big game on workers’ rights all along, but once again the reality falls short.”

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “It’s our union policy to campaign against Tory Brexit. There is no Brexit deal that can benefit workers. Everyone from the CBI, to the bank of England to the TUC and most of the Tory party itself know Brexit is killing jobs.

“Disgustingly, it’s anti-migrant workers stance has seen workers depart our shores and has left our public services ailing. It’ss not the job of elected Labour MPs to do deals with the dreadful Tories. Their energies needs to be spent in bringing down May and her mob – end of!

“Nothing good can come for working people from Tory Brexit. And Labour MPs should know better than to do deals with the Tories.

“There is still tine for the government to abort their botched Brexit mission. The biggest division in our country ain’t between those who voted Leave or Remain. It’s between those who have untold wealth and whose interests are protected and enhanced by the Tories and the rest of us.

“Time to call time on the Tories and their mega-rich chums. Only a Labour government will address this massive and growing wealth imbalance. And make no mistake, any Tory Brexit will let workers down. The duty of all Labour MPs is to sink May’s rotten deal.”

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “The Conservative record on employment rights is poor and this government has completely failed to engage with trade unions on the issue. This means we have little faith that this government would deliver on any promises and we oppose MPs accepting anything short of legal guarantees on maintaining existing employment rights and implementing all new rights that the EU adopts after Brexit.

“Our concerns about the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal extend beyond employment rights alone. Since the outcome of the referendum over two years ago Usdaw has called for a Brexit deal that protects workers’ rights, ensures frictionless trade and maintains the Good Friday Agreement by avoiding a hard border in Ireland. As things stand it is now clear that the Prime Minister’s deal does not deliver on any of those key concerns, so Usdaw continues to urge MPs to vote against the deal.

“Europe has delivered core employment rights that Usdaw members rely on, such as: paid holiday leave and proper rest breaks; safeguards against discrimination; equal treatment for part-time workers; information and consultation in the workplace; TUPE rights for transferring workers, and important health and safety protections.

“These are minimum employment standards that help ensure fairness in the workplace and a level playing field that stops rogue employers undercutting rivals at the expense of their staff. We have to ensure that a post-Brexit Britain does not spiral downwards into low wages and insecure employment.”

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “This last minute offer from the government is a desperate attempt to save the prime ministers’ deal but doesn’t protect workers’ rights in the future.

“Parliament is always able to offer workers better protections, this amendment changes nothing and should convince nobody. The history of employment law demonstrates that these protections are more likely to be undermined at the domestic than the European level, just look at the history of unfair dismissal law, restrictions on Unions and tribunal fees.

“Trade unions have consistently warned about the impact of this Brexit deal on employment rights and been totally ignored by government, the only way to get a good deal for workers is to put the deal back to the people with a proper debate about the value of the deal as opposed to existing EU membership.”

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