We held an Opposition Day Debate on 25 January to debate the Government’s plans for employment rights.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed many deficiencies in our workers’ rights and protections. It is essential that when we emerge from the crisis, we provide a better deal for working people.
It is therefore extremely worrying that the Government would even be considering reducing employment rights. Yet, as revealed by the Financial Times, the Government has looked at plans to end the 48-hour working week, weaken rules around rest breaks, and exclude overtime when calculating holiday pay entitlement.
I believe that these changes would have a devastating impact on working people. They would mean longer hours, lower wages, and more dangerous workplaces.
The 48-hour working week limit is not only a vital protection for people’s work-life balance, but also crucial for the health and safety of workers. Quite simply, working longer hours leads to more deaths and serious injuries.
Excluding overtime from holiday pay entitlements, meanwhile, would hit the finances of the lowest paid and those in insecure work. Under current rules, regular overtime is included when calculating holiday pay entitlement, ensuring that it reflects the hours that are actually worked. Scrapping those rules would mean lower holiday pay, with care workers, police officers, HGV drivers and more losing hundreds of pounds a year. For those who work irregular hours, such as retail workers, the impact would be even more severe. One example that was highlighted showed a worker on an 8.5-hour contract who normally works 36.5 hours a week losing over £2,000 a year.
We should not be stripping away employment rights but strengthening them. This should start with outlawing ‘fire and rehire’, where companies sack employees before hiring them back on lower pay and worse conditions. Unfortunately, this practice seems to have become widespread during the pandemic, with nearly one in ten workers being told to reapply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions since the first lockdown in March according to the Trades Union Congress.
Fire and rehire is an abuse of power and completely unacceptable. It punishes good employers, hits working people hard and damages our economy, and it should be banned as soon as possible.
The Opposition motion debated on Monday called for the Government to set out a timetable for legislation to end fire and rehire tactics by the end of the month, as well as for the maintenance of all existing employment rights and protections. It was disappointing that the Government chose not to support this motion. I can nevertheless assure you that I will do what I can to hold it to account on workers’ rights.
I can also assure you that my Opposition colleagues and I will continue to use Opposition Days to highlight vitally important issues in the country such as workers’ rights, free school meals, homelessness, and Universal Credit.