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Fear not, the TUC remains 'vigilant' as Osborne attacks rights

Chancellor George Osborne’s plan for workers to sell off their employment rights, making it easier and cheaper for bosses to sack people, might well have produced a tough reaction from a trade union leadership prepared to confront the despised ConDems.

The proposals are to be rushed through parliament to come into effect next April. Dressed up as a voluntary scheme, it is almost certain to be compulsory for new employees, however.

They will have to sign a contract that abandons hard-fought for rights on redundancy pay, unfair dismissal and maternity leave. In exchange for a few shares of dubious value, workers will also give up rights to training and flexible working.

At a stroke, these laws will create a modern form of bonded labour to satisfy some mad Tory dogma as well the deeply reactionary people who constitute the party conference delegates assembled in Birmingham.

With the TUC threatening all sorts of action some time next year over public sector pay, here was a golden opportunity to ratchet up the rhetoric at least. But over at Congress House, home of the Trades Union Congress, there was not so much fire in the belly as a
dose of post-lunch sleepiness.

Outgoing general secretary Brendan Barber restricted himself to “deploring” the plans, adding that “these complex proposals do not look as if they will have very much impact as few small businesses will want to tie themselves up in the tangle of red tape necessary to trigger these exemptions”. Amazingly, Barber claimed that Osborne’s plans were “said for effect” but the TUC would be “vigilant” just in case they were the thin end of a “future anti-employee wedge”.

So that’s okay then. No need to get alarmed. Just keep watch just in case the Tories turn really nasty! What world is Barber living in, you may ask? The Tories and the Lib Dems – who hate unions just as much as their Coalition partners – are whittling away rights at a rapid rate.

Only recently, business secretary Vince Cable – who, as we know exchanges frequent text messages with Ed Miliband – announced plans to restrict payouts for employees who win employment tribunal cases, as well as making it harder for them to make a claim in the first place.

Pension rights for millions of public sector workers have been eroded, without much resistance from union leaders with one or two notable exceptions such as Mark Serwotka of the civil servants PCS. Real wages have been cut by years of pay freezing. But don’t despair, the TUC remains “vigilant”!

Which makes you wonder about the thinking behind the TUC-organised October 20 March for a Future that Works. Taking place safely on a non-working day to avoid any kind of strike action, it is surely designed to let off steam while letting the ConDems off the hook.

As the economy continues to deteriorate, with public finances going from bad to worse according to the International Monetary Fund today, Osborne and the rest of the cabinet have their backs to the wall and are extremely vulnerable.

Neither the TUC nor Miliband’s Labour Party have any intention of rocking the political boat, however. They are prepared to wait it out to 2015 in the forlorn hope that a change of government will put things right. With Labour committed to spending cuts and attacks on welfare benefits, that’s not going to happen.

Yesterday, Osborne cynically used the phrase “workers of the world unite” when announcing his plan to scrap employment rights, while last week Miliband invoked the imperialist Tory Disraeli in a speech that over 50 times mentioned the phrase “One Nation”. With the parties virtually interchangeable, it tells you everything you wanted to know about British politics and forgot to ask.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
9 October 2012

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