Unions fight back by launching Employee Rights Stop Employment Wrongs campaign


More than three million people working in small companies with fewer than 10 staff will be turned into second-class citizens if government supporters of the Beecroft report get their way, according to TUC analysis published today as unions launch the Employee Rights Stop Employment Wrongs campaign.

Launching the campaign at a photo opportunity featuring a backwards clock face and Victorian-dressed workers, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “We have made steady progress in the UK in securing a floor of minimum rights at work for all. But they are hardly generous. The OECD shows that among the world’s 36 most prosperous countries, only workers in the USA have poorer rights than UK employees.

“Almost every advance has been bitterly opposed. The same arguments used against legal protection for child chimney sweeps in the 19th century are repeated every time. But while change has always been slow, it has at least been in the right direction.

“However, the clock is now turning backwards. Already people have to wait two years before getting protection against unfair dismissal. The opponents of workplace decency, like Adrian Beecroft, are using the economic crisis as an excuse to try to smuggle through attacks on employee rights. They say they are doing this for growth, yet Mr Beecroft offers no economic evidence in support of his arguments beyond anecdote.

“In particular he and his supporters in government want to turn employees in small businesses into second-class citizens by stripping them of many rights. Mr Beecroft’s original report called for staff in small firms to lose unfair dismissal, pension, flexible working, parental leave, gangmaster and equal pay rights.

“While he has been beaten back on some of these – such as his proposal to let small firms employ children on an unrestricted basis, no doubt wanting to get his own back against Victorian chimney sweep red tape – many threats remain.

“The conclusion is clear. Only take a job with a small firm if you can’t get one with a medium or large employer. If you work in a small company start looking for a job with a bigger one. Do not be stuck as a second-class citizen at work.

“Companies of all sizes need to contribute to economic growth. Restricting the talent pool for small firms will not help them grow. The very many good employers in small firms who have no interest in treating their staff badly will suffer unfairly but just as much as the minority of bad bosses from being seen as second-class, second-rate employers.

“That is why we launch this major campaign today. Cutting rights will not boost growth. Indeed “it is likely to have the unintended consequence of destabilising consumer confidence at a very difficult time”. Not my words, but those of Norman Lamb, the new employment relations minister. We will “confront the old-fashioned negative thinking which says that all government needs to do to generate growth is cut worker and environmental protections, cut taxes on the rich and stroke ‘fat cats’ until they purr with pleasure”. Again not union rhetoric, but Vince Cable’s words.

“We know that voters are on our side. Lib Dem ministers are barely hiding their derision for some of these measures – though they have also backed others. Even some Conservatives are opposed. Our message today is don’t turn the clock back on workplace rights. This is a campaign we can win.”

The campaign website is here.

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