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Labour’s Tug of War: Sir Keir Reassures Unions on Workers’ Rights Amid Internal Strife and Election Pressures



Labour chief calms union leaders amid dispute on employee protections policy – the conflict persists

Sir Keir’s group has scaled down a proposal to allocate £28bn for renewable energy – union heads are pressing him to prevent further dilution of progressive policies.

Political reporter @tamcohen

Tuesday, May 14, 2024, 7:

Sir Keir Starmer has made efforts to calm concerns among trade union leaders regarding his party's commitment to enhancing workers' rights, following allegations that he has been diluting these protections.

The party has vowed to implement significant reforms for employees should they come to power, such as prohibiting zero-hour contracts, granting employment rights from the first day, and putting a stop to the "fire and rehire" strategy.

When Angela Rayner introduced the new deal for working people in 2021, it was touted as the most significant improvement in labor rights in many years.

Last summer, the party implemented several alterations, yet union leaders argued that a recent document distributed to them last week seemed to retract more of these promises.

Sharon Graham, the chief of the Unite union, labeled the unreleased document a “betrayal” and claimed it was entirely different from the initial proposals.

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Amid escalating tensions, leaders of trade unions associated with the Labour Party convened with Sir Keir, Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, reaching a consensus to abandon the proposed new draft.

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In a unified announcement, it was stated, "Today, Labour and the associated unions had a productive meeting. We collectively reaffirmed Labour's complete dedication to the new deal for workers that was settled in July.

"We will persist in collaborating swiftly on the methods by which a Labour administration would enact it into law."

Sources within the union expressed concerns that the Labour leadership was succumbing to the influence of major corporations as the election approached, alleging that the party had been persuaded to back down.

Following a three-hour session at Labour’s headquarters in south London, Ms. Graham reported that there had been a shift in Labour's stance, although it is believed that Sir Keir did not attend the entire meeting.

Speaking to Sky News, she described the meeting as "constructive," emphasizing the significance of including workers' perspectives. She stated, "It was crucial for us to reassert our stance that the New Deal for Working People needs to be put into action."

"We're in a strong position now, as there's renewed commitment. We plan to reconvene in three weeks after assembling some necessary details to deliberate on a new document. It was a pivotal meeting, a crucial one, but I believe we've made it," she noted. She further commented, "I believe there has been a shift in Labour's stance."

Initially, the agreement included a commitment to enact an "employment rights bill" within 100 days of assuming office, but this timeline is now considered impractical.

Last summer, at the national policy forum attended by party officials, MPs, and union leaders, some adjustments were made, which the head of Unite suggested were aimed at ingratiating themselves with major corporations.

Last week, The Financial Times revealed that recent revisions to a draft document incorporated more provisions favorable to businesses regarding the practice of firing and subsequently rehiring employees under less advantageous conditions.

The article mentioned that it emphasized the necessity for businesses to "reorganize to stay operational and maintain their employees when there are truly no other options."

It was also stated that zero hours contracts would not be entirely prohibited as some individuals prefer them, however, workers should have the right to a contract that mirrors their typical work hours.

The Labour Party has pledged to introduce equitable salary contracts for social care employees, a move that the conservative think tank Policy Exchange has argued might increase the typical council tax bill by £225.

Learn more: Labour advised not to refund union supporter, Rayner's workers' rights agenda sparks major conflict

Sir Keir's faction has scaled down their 2021 commitment to allocate £28bn towards green energy following an extended internal dispute.

Union leaders are set to hold Sir Keir and his shadow chancellors accountable, pressing them to maintain some of the party's more progressive policies as the scrutiny of an election campaign intensifies.

Despite the apparent cheer, today's disagreements have merely been postponed, with further disputes yet to be resolved.

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