Rayner kick-starts conference with a life-raft of practical policy.
Labour’s challenge as delegates gather in Brighton this morning is not the absence of policy. Labour has lots of policies. The problem is that some of them are obscure, some fantastical, some outdated, and some just plain wrong. We can debate which is which later over coffee.
The main problem is the age-old challenge of ‘cut through’ — what will be heard above the clamour and froth, and enter the popular consciousness? In her speech today Angela Rayner makes a noble effort to construct some policies that are necessary, fair, implementable, and possess the bonus of popularity.
The premise is simple enough: the world of work has transformed in recent years, catalysed by Covid-19. ‘Work’ now covers a vast range of activities, places, hours and reward. Many studies, from the Fabians and others, have mapped out how technology will transform how we will spend our working hours.
Enlightened employers have allowed greater flexibility for their workers, using technology to liberate them from the daily commute or clocking-in. Others have behaved like Victorian millowners, sweating their workers, diddling them of every penny, and paying little regard to their health, safety or mental wellbeing. And amidst this tumult, the laws and regulations governing the world of work have not caught up.
So Angela Rayner will set out a range of policies — an end to zero hours contracts, no more fire and rehire, improved sick pay, parental leave and bereavement leave, and a recognition that someone doing work — delivering last night’s takeaway or this morning’s Amazon parcel, for example — is a worker. New Fair Pay Agreements will be drawn up sector by sector, starting with those sectors in most need of modernisation. The social care sector must, surely, be top of the list.
The proposals, contained in a new Green Paper on Employment Rights, will no doubt be written up by cynics as a sop to the unions. Certainly union leaders and the TUC have already welcomed the announcements. Manuel Cortes from TSSA has said ‘these are the kind of bread and butter policies that will win Labour the next election.’
But the reality is that the people who will benefit most are the overwhelming majority of workers in the UK who are not a member of the union, have never heard of OMOV, and don’t know the Labour conference is even happening. They are the people making the country tick, often out of sight and out of mind, on the night-shift and in the early morning.
These are the people who may look twice at Labour if we can show we ‘get it’ and have something relevant and practical to say. Angela Rayner gets it, and her speech is the best possible start to Labour’s week.
Paul Richards is a writer, and is a candidate for the Fabian Society executive.