Op:Ed – Workers Rights A Losing Battle In the War On Want

In an Op-Ed piece, a look at the plight of workers rights and a lack of real alternatives to government policies

Unemployment is said to be declining, but remains at around three million as living standards fall to a seven year low. The recent fall in unemployment is little more than an example of this governments’ ability to massage statistics. Employment has risen in the last quarter, but a significant proportion of these figures have been buttressed by part time and temporary work, not to mention that claimants of Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance, whom have received sanctions are not accounted for by the unemployment figures. Despite this “rise” in employment, the minimum wage, and wages on almost every level, save for top earners whose take home pay will increase due to tax cuts, are virtually being frozen, and may literally become frozen if the government has its way.

This governments’ aptitude in subtlety maintaining austere measures under the guise of progress, could only have been achieved with the complicity of the mainstream media. The threat to the TV licence fee which exists in perpetuum has forced the BBC to capitulate to right wing coercion. Further, almost all of the major national newspapers are controlled in Fleet Street, by Etonian daddy’s boys compelled to reflect the views of their multinational proprietors, whom consider anyone to the left of Mussolini as rabidly salivating commies. Media complicity furnishes the political establishment with almost complete carte blanche to act as they please, and explains why regressive policies, such as the right to claim unfair dismissal from ones employer, having been extended from a year to two years, has gone virtually unnoticed by the general public.

The virulence of this attack does not end at the period in which one can claim unfair dismissal. Even if an employee has worked for an organisation for longer than two years, in the event of a dismissal perceived to be unfair, a fee of up to £1,000 may have to be paid before a claim can be heard at an employment tribunal. According to figures published by the Ministry of Justice, these changes in the law, contributed to a 75% decrease in new cases submitted to employment tribunals in the last three months of 2013.

Another flank of this Tory offensive occurred last July, when the government passed legislation unseen before in employment law. New law, that essentially provides employers with a license to bully their workers. The new ‘Pre-termination Negotiations’ or ‘Protected Conversations’, effectively states that any content discussed under the conditions of a ‘Protected Conversation’ cannot be referred later in any subsequent unfair dismissal claim.

Well, at least workers on low incomes can still access free legal advice. Well, not exactly, with continuing cuts to public services and the Legal Aid budget, many Law Centre’s have been unable to secure funding and have been forced to close. In the North West of England, only three Law Centre’s are still open, and only forty three remain in operation nationwide. So, any young person entering the world of employment, can initially expect to encounter a hostile welfare system, designed to penalise them at every opportunity, especially if they suffer from mental health issues. This relates to a recent and astonishing DWP directive targeting mental health claimants of ESA for sanctions. When a young jobseeker finally lands that coveted first job, they will enter a working environment that is unsecure, and potentially abusive. They will likely receive slender pay, with even slender prospects of it increasing, and if they get the sack, they will be bereft of the ability or means to appeal against such a decision.

The General Election will be in full swing by this time next year, and those on the left will be hoping that the Labour Party will repeal many of these attacks on the working poor. This faith would be misplaced, as the Labour Party have little in common with the labour movement anymore, a fact that trade union Unite have recently come to terms with. Unite leader Len McCluskey said in a speech to the TUC, that he would withdraw Unites affiliation from Labour if they reneged on promises to protect “ordinary working people”. Labour will almost certainly disappoint McCluskey, let us not forget, that it was Labour who originally extended the right to claim unfair dismissal from six months to a year, it was Labour who introduced ATOS, it was Labour who opened the doors to PFI in the NHS (not even Thatcher’s stomach was stout enough for that), and it was Labour who extended the privatisation of many of our public services. Moreover, current Labour policy, as scanty as it is, has a comprehensive similarity with Tory policy, albeit with minute differences in emphasis. Both parties have pledged a commitment to austerity, including continued privatisation, and cuts to public services, the only difference is that Labour policy will be the lethal injection to the Tories electric chair, the former arguably more benevolent and less painful than the latter, both however, share the same result.

In a recent speech, the Chancellor George Osborne expressed a desire to achieve “full employment” in the near future. In the past one may have balked at such a statement, especially in the early 1980’s when full employment would have meant an empowered workforce, which is the last thing anyone in the Conservative party would ever wish for. Now though, when workers receive menial pay, little to no job security, are purged of affordable means to protect their rights, and the entire labour movement is in disarray,  why wouldn’t the Tories desire full employment?

Danny Lavelle


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