Britain’s biggest union, Unite, has accused the government of reprising the darkest tactics of the Thatcher era by ushering in an era of ‘hire and fire’ in a desperate attempt to shore up its catastrophic mismanagement of the economy.
With the IMF warning the chancellor today (Tuesday 16 April) that his cuts programme is failing the nation, and the government's Enterprise and Regulatory Reform bill and Growth and Enterprise bill reach their final stages in the House of Commons.
The bills give the green light to ‘rogue’ employers by making it cheaper to sack workers unlawfully and ushering in punishing charges for workers’ redress. The government will also allow employers seeking to shut down larger workplaces to do so with limited consultation with employees, so, according to Unite, hanging an ‘exit here’ sign above UK plc.
The government is also seeking to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board, which protects the wages and housing of over 150,000 agriculture workers in England and Wales, despite warnings from Unite and peers that this move will spread rural poverty.
Branding today a ‘bleak day’ for Britain’s workers, Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said:
“Today is a bleak one for working people. These bills represent the biggest attack on human rights since the Thatcher era.
“While they ready themselves for tomorrow’s funeral, the coalition government is slaying the last vestiges of rights for UK workers, already the poorest protected in Europe.
"Even Margaret Thatcher didn’t dare to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board.
“The effect of today’s bills is that workers will become more frightened and work will become even more precarious. Workers will be denied access to justice, yet ‘rogue’ employers will be given the green light to discriminate and sack workers unlawfully.
“Those desperate for work face the choice between signing their rights away and putting food on the table or the dole queue.
“Truly, it is only the Nasty Party who would put people in such a miserable, abused position.
“Once again, Cameron and Osborne prove that this recession is all they need to transport us back to the dark days of Thatcherism where the world of work is more unequal and ordinary people struggle under tumbling living standards.
"Those policies failed our nation then and they will fail us again. On the day when the IMF warns that this government has got it wrong, it needs to break with its Thatcherite past and focus now on growing our economy for the good of everyone, not the few.”
In the Growth and Enterprise Bill, despite opposition from business and the House of Lords, the government pushed through its controversial ‘shares for rights’ scheme.
The scheme will see workers selling their rights to redundancy pay, unfair dismissal, training and flexible working in return for shares and could lead to people being forced to choose between signing away their rights or the dole.
For further information contact the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065 or Alex Flynn, Unite head of media and campaigns, on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665 869.
Notes to editors
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.5 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.