‘More holes than a Swiss cheese’: Union fury at more Labour workers’ rights changes

Sir Keir Starmer moved to contain a backlash from one of Labour’s biggest union donors on Saturday after rebranding the party’s contentious package of workers’ rights reforms.

Labour has rebranded its New Deal for Working People as “Labour’s plan to make work pay” amid ongoing negotiations over the final shape of the package that has led to concerns in some quarters that it is being watered down.

Starmer denied he was watering down policies on areas such as zero-hours contracts after Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the plans had “more holes than Swiss cheese” following the rebrand.

The tortured negotiations over the package have stoked shadow Cabinet tensions, including between Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, who is trying to make Labour business-friendly, and deputy leader Angela Rayner, who is helming the reforms.

A new document containing a final version of the plans confirms commitments to reverse a Conservative crackdown on unions, to reduce Government outsourcing and to end the practice of “fire and rehire”.

Plans to introduce day one rights at work by ending the denial of claiming unfair dismissal, parental leave and sick pay are also confirmed, although the new document includes assurances for company bosses about probationary periods for new workers.

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The plan also confirms a U-turn on banning all zero-hours contracts, to focus instead on only “exploitative” arrangements, while the so-called “right to switch off” by not being expected to reply to work emails and other contacts after hours has disappeared from the main branding around the package.

The revised proposals also signal a slower timeline for the package’s introduction, with Labour promising to introduce legislation in its first 100 days in government if it wins the election, a watering down of a previous commitment to pass legislation in that timeframe.

Shadow ministers remain in tense talks with companies as they tweak the details of the new laws, amid fears that hiring could become harder if employees gain significant new powers.

During a visit to Staffordshire on Saturday, Starmer told the BBC: “We have come to an agreement with the trade unions on the new deal for working people.

“There’s been no watering down. This is the most significant set of protections for a generation.

“It’s also something which I think employers and good businesses would say, ‘looking at the detail of it, this is what we’re doing in good businesses’.”

Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite the union, said: “The again revised New Deal for Working People has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. The number of caveats and get-outs means it is in danger of becoming a bad bosses’ charter.

“Working people expect Labour to be their voice. They need to know that Labour will not back down to corporate profiteers determined to maintain the status quo of colossal profits at the expense of everyone else. The country desperately needs a Labour government, but the party must show it will stick to its guns on improving workers’ rights.”

However, Unison, which along with Unite is one of the two largest unions in the UK, welcomed the package in its current form as one that will “make work fairer and boost the economy”.

“There will be a clear choice in July: a vote for a party that understands the huge struggles employees and their families have been facing, or one that’s persistently let working people down these past 14 years. Labour’s new deal best illustrates that choice,” general secretary Christina McAnea said.

A Labour spokesman said: “Labour’s New Deal for Working People is our plan to make work pay. It’s how we’ll boost wages, deliver secure work and support working people to thrive – delivering a genuine living wage, banning exploitative zero hours contracts, and ending fire and rehire.

“The New Deal is a core part of our mission to grow Britain’s economy and raise living standards in every part of the country. Labour will make Britain work for working people.”

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