It’s worth reflecting for a moment on the timing of the Beecroft report on employment laws, which includes proposals to slash redundancy rights, curb unfair dismissal claims, water down TUPE rules and abolish the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate. The report was completed in October 2011, but has only now been published. Whatever the protestations of Business Secretary Vince Cable, this feels like the right-wing of the Tory party asserting its power in the face of polls that are looking distinctly difficult for the Government. The fact that Business Minister Mark Prisk, who reports to Cable, felt able to boast in Parliament that the Government was “already actioning 17 of the 23 topics” raised by Beecroft indicates their confidence.
The Government is clearly hoping to use the economic crisis as cover to give significantly more power to employers by curbing employment rights and undermining trade unions. And they must be looking with approval at what’s currently happening to employment rights, collective agreements and wages in Greece. All this begs the question: when will they dust off their proposals to implement serious curbs on trade union rights? It’s evident from previous reports in the media that advanced plans already exist to: introduce a minimum turnout for strike ballots which would render much industrial action illegal; ban strikes in what would be deemed ‘essential services’ (eg the public sector, transport etc); and restrict facility time for union reps. And the suspicion is that the only thing preventing the Government from moving ahead with this agenda are tactical questions about timing and the constraints presented by fighting problems on other fronts as they struggle to regain the political initiative.
This suggests three points: constant vigilance on the part of unions and the left to combat any moves to curb employment and trade union rights; action to re-invigorate a pro-active campaign to force Britain to sign up to the International Labour Organisation convention on freedom of association, organisation in the workplace without hindrance (including the right to strike) and effective collective bargaining; and continuing pressure on Labour to strengthen links with the union movement, particularly in the wake of Ian Lavery MP’s positive call to action on workers’ rights yesterday following his election as chairman of the Trade Union Group of Labour MPs.