Britain’s top trade union leader has written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng warning the government that abandoning plans to legislate for tougher workers’ rights after mass layoffs at P&O Ferries “would side with the bad guys.” bosses”.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said the UK urgently needed ‘proper legislation’ through a Jobs Bill promised by ministers there is more than two years old, but repeatedly delayed.
It emerged over the weekend that the government will drop long-awaited reforms from the Queen’s Speech in May, when the government sets out its plans for the next parliamentary session. He first promised a jobs bill in December 2019 after Boris Johnson won the general election, claimed as a way to improve post-Brexit UK workers’ rights.
O’Grady said failing to present the plan would give “the green light to rogue employers to treat staff as disposable labour”, particularly after critics said P&O Ferries had exposed the weak position of the government to fight against abuses.
The Dubai-owned ferry operator sparked outrage across the political spectrum last month by firing nearly 800 workers without the consultations required by law, then admitting it had done so deliberately. The company is the subject of criminal and civil investigations.
“There’s no excuse for a delay,” O’Grady said. “If the government breaks its promise to strengthen workers’ rights, workers will have been duped and betrayed.
“Without new laws to protect people on the job, there’s no stopping P&O-type scandals from happening in the future.”
Cabinet Office officials have stopped working on the bill, meaning he is unlikely to deliver the speech, the Financial Times reported last week, citing three unnamed officials. A Government source said the contents of the Queen’s speech had yet to be agreed.
The bill would have introduced protections against pregnancy discrimination and the creation of a single employment rights enforcement body to ensure abuse does not fall into the gaps between different regulators, while making the right to flexible working hours the default option unless employers have a good reason not to.
A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to building a high-skilled, high-productivity, high-wage economy that delivers on our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work.
“This includes ensuring that workers’ rights are strongly protected while fostering a dynamic and flexible labor market.