‘Don’t be the P&O prime minister’ on workers’ rights, says TUC chief

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I cannot accept the idea that more people will fall into poverty. It is disgusting that in a rich country we have a lot of children in line for bread. This should never be.”

Anger is not the emotion I associate with TUC General Secretary Francis O’Grady. Passion? Of course. Fire? It is too. She is able to wake up the troops with a harsh speech. But the cold rage that arises in the course of our conversation throws me back a little. I’ve known the union leader for almost a decade now and can’t recall hearing the same tone.

This plight of poorer Britons matters to O’Grady. The suffering they will have to endure this winter, when inflation is almost out of control and affecting food prices? This worries her. Perhaps because she saw life from a different perspective. As a child, she shared a bedroom with her three sisters. She’s a waitress, worked at M&S, peeled onions at a diner.

There aren’t many non-executive directors at the Bank of England – another position she holds – who have done this. O’Grady understands wrestling in a way few people in public life understand.

She speaks very highly of her successor, Paul Nowak, but her impending departure from the union will still be a loss for her. “We have to shame the government and force it to act, but our first task is to try to prevent a catastrophe,” she says. In the meantime, the TUC and its members have stepped up their work to provide emergency assistance to families in need, together with a number of charitable organizations. More on the way.

“Unions have always had that dimension in what they do. They have aid funds. Charity weapon. This is a job that is often not advertised. I see that we need to activate it. We discuss this in [our] general advice. We must be prepared for the fact that life will become very difficult for a large number of people. When people are in trouble, we have an obligation to intervene and support.”

As is the government. But this is not mentioned, perhaps because it is obvious. “It shouldn’t be like this,” O’Grady adds, still showing signs of frustration. “It should be possible to avoid a recession. We stepped up when it came to the vacation scheme. We’re ready to rise again.”

While on vacation, the union worked with the CBI and the Treasury Department to create what was officially called the Job Retention Scheme. It has worked throughout the pandemic and is arguably O’Grady’s crowning achievement. She can point to the millions in livelihoods saved through her work and the work of her team. O’Grady herself played a key role in creating the scheme. Would it have been as successful if she hadn’t worked with others? Doubtful.

Rishi Sunak, who lost to Liz Truss for the Tory leadership, should also be given credit for proving his willingness to listen to unconventional voices, if only in times of crisis. Will Truss be prepared to do so in the current crisis? This is yet to be seen.

“I think we have proven that all wisdom is not in Westminster, Whitehall or the boardroom. But it seems that it is worth talking to us only in times of crisis. On the energy side, we are facing a crisis of pandemic proportions,” says the more-than-usually optimistic TUC boss. The TUC is “ready” to contribute to finding solutions, but says “the ball is clearly in Liz Truss’s favor.”

Will the new prime minister extend an olive branch to the unions? It’s hard to see this happening. Even if Truss hadn’t surrounded himself with Thatcher punks and ideologues, she has a reputation for being fragile and tough-minded.

Her credentials are questionable. She came second behind Sunak among the Conservative MPs, with the support of only 113 members of the parliamentary party (less than a third). Her winning lead among the participants was noticeable, but less than the polls had predicted. She received 57% of the votes cast, but with an 82% turnout, that figure is only 47% of those eligible to vote.

“She hasn’t reached the threshold that ministers set for union members voting to strike,” O’Grady noted in a tweet that went viral.

Does Truss really have a mandate to bonfire for workers’ rights in general, especially given what the Tory manifesto had to say about it? Page 5 argued that Brexit would provide an opportunity to “raise standards in areas such as [sic] workers’ rights”. On page 38: “The increase in employment that the Conservative government has been watching since 2010 is proof that there is no contradiction between high employment and high standards.” He also promised to create a single enforcement agency to “prosecute any employer who violates labor laws, whether by taking tips from workers or denying them sick pay” and pledged to “ensure that workers have the right to demand a more predictable contract and other reasonable conditions.” . protection.”

O’Grady fears Truss could become “P&O premier”, referring to the ferry company that caused an uproar by firing its workers without consultation and replacing them with sub-minimum wage staff. Its CEO, in front of incredulous MPs at hearings in the House of Commons, admitted that he had broken the law.

“We had 60 days of parade of right-wing dogmas. Will the new prime minister change course? We’ll have to wait and see, but the alternative is that she becomes known as the P&O premier. It won’t grow. This will harm us all. Making workers poorer and less secure is a guarantee of curbing growth. Workers create wealth. All we ask for is a fair share.”

The TUC has just released the results of a GQR Research poll that shows little appetite even among Conservative voters for cuts to workers’ rights. A survey of 3,040 respondents showed that 79% of them support expanding all the rights of workers that have been preserved since the UK left the EU. Among Conservative voters, that figure rose to 81%. He has received equally strong support for ending “firing and rehiring”, for expanding workers’ rights in the gig economy, and for introducing “fair pay agreements” across sectors to set minimum wages and rights across industries.

The only issue where Conservative voters lagged behind the overall figure was support for a ban on zero-day contracts, but it was close at 66% to 68%.

“It’s a nostalgic journey if you believe in tax cuts at the top and [low] Paying for everyone else will make Britain richer,” says O’Grady. “Let’s hope she pays attention to what voters think. What really struck me about our poll is that there is very little difference depending on how people vote. Support for workers’ rights is strong across the board. People don’t want to be cut down.”

Credit: www.independent.co.uk /

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