Revolutionizing our workplaces: a seismic shift in power relations at work
[This article appeared originally in Labour Briefing]
BACK IN JANUARY 2018, I was appointed shadow Minister for Labour by Jeremy Corbyn, six months after being elected as MP for North West Durham, and while four months pregnant. Of course, it felt like a real honour to be promoted so early and into such an important role. But if I’d known the enormity of the project I’d taken on, I think I may have run a mile.
Twenty months on and we’ve just officially launched the department at TUC Congress, now renamed the Ministry of Employment Rights. But the name, or even any overview, can’t capture the enormous significance of the changes we are proposing. The project has come so far in those 20 months. Of course, I haven’t by any means done this alone. John Hendy and Keith Ewing of the Institute for Employment Rights (IER), in particular, have given so much of their time to make this a reality. The Ministry of Employment Rights is charged with delivering some of the key planks of Labour’s transformative programme in government, for example:
The roll out of sectoral collective bargaining, setting minimum and legally binding pay, terms and conditions for every employer and every worker in the sector - so that workers once again have the right to negotiate their pay, terms and conditions via their trade union representatives.
Giving unions access to workplaces and workers, so, for example, the activists running the #McStrike can talk to their fellow workers without fear of the sack.
Resolving the important issue of worker status so the likes of the Deliveroo riders and Uber drivers can finally get the same rights as everyone else.
A right to strike and protections against dismissal for those involved in industrial action (this includes restoring the right to strike for prison officers).
Proper enforcement of rights and statutory minimums for workers, including the inspection of workplaces through a Worker Protection Agency.
And this is just a snapshot. When reps and party activists see the detail, they’ll realise that this constitutes nothing short of a revolution in the workplace. We’re not going to be hanging about, either. Under a Labour government we will bring in a raft of legislation that the trade union movement has been waiting decades for, plus a lot more. It will be a seismic shift in power relations at work, with the ambitious aim to make workplaces a level playing field for workers, no matter which sector those workplaces fall within.
What we won’t be able to do, though, is to do it alone. This is a job for the whole movement. Already, we have discussed these plans with hundreds of trade union reps and officials. That won’t stop when we get into government - quite the opposite, we will expand those circles, so we are talking to trade unionists and workers at every level.
John McDonnell promised to bring unions into the heart of government. My department is the door through which they can enter.