Boris Johnson ‘betraying’ workers by abandoning pledge of new laws to stamp out abusive practices

Review into the flouting of protections in low-wage jobs has been gathering dust for a year

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 11 May 2021 14:05 BST
Queen's Speech unveils plans on freedom of speech, voter ID and snap elections

Boris Johnson has “betrayed” workers by abandoning a promise of new laws to stamp out the abuse of low-paid staff, angry unions say.

A government-ordered review into the flouting of protections in sectors including hand car washes, agriculture, social care and construction was completed more than a year ago.

It also warned of a growing risk of exploitation as unemployment rises because of the Covid-19 pandemic and following changes to the immigration system after Brexit.

But the promised Employment Bill has been dropped from the Queen’s Speech – triggering protests that a pledge that workers will be “treated with dignity and respect” has been broken.

“We need action now to deal with the scourge of insecure work – not more dithering and delay,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC.

“Zero-hours contracts and other exploitative working practices like fire and rehire must be banned once and for all.”

Warren Kenny, the GMB union’s acting general secretary, said: “We have been fobbed off repeatedly by ministers with promises to level up workers’ rights with an Employment Bill. Well, the Bill is still missing in action.

“Warm words on workers’ rights are betrayed by this government’s abject lack of leadership. This is an historic missed opportunity.”

And Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said: “The government have missed the opportunity to show leadership and shape the future of work over the coming years, and it is workers who will pay the price.”

In February, Matthew Taylor quit as director of Labour Market Enforcement, attacking the government’s failure to act – amid controversy over whether workers’ rights will be watered down after Brexit.

“Ministers and officials appear to be indifferent or complacent about a body that was set up to ensure effective accountability and insight into the scale and nature of non-compliance,” he said.

Mr Taylor attributed the failure to act to “inertia and incompetence” – while acknowledging that “some people will think this is ideological”.

Chief executive of the Royal Society for Arts, he was appointed director of Labour Market Enforcement in 2019 by Greg Clark, the-then business secretary.

He previously investigated how to beef-up protections for workers without sick pay and holiday pay in the so-called “gig economy” for Theresa May, which produced some changes.

An Employment Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech as long ago as December 2019, to take forward other aspects of those proposals – but has still yet to appear.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We will introduce the Employment Bill when the time is right given the profound effects the pandemic is having on the economy and the labour market.”

The criticism came as it was confirmed a social care plan – promised by the prime minister on his first day in office, in 2019 – has also been shelved again.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, blamed the pandemic for preventing the government from giving it “as much focus” as hoped, adding: “I think people will understand that.”

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