At yesterday’s Opposition Day Debate on employment rights I spoke about the importance of trade unions in helping to ensure a happy and motivated workforce. You can watch my speech in full or read the transcript below.
As a former trade union official, I am very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
In the short time I have this evening, I would like to touch on the importance of workers’ rights in ensuring a happy, productive and innovative work force.
As we have already heard, Ministers stated on a number of occasions that Brexit would enhance rather than weaken the EU-derived employment rights UK workers currently benefit from.
Yet here we are, less than one month after the end of the transition period, and those rights are already under threat.
If the proposed changes go ahead, they will likely leave many people – including the key workers ministers have been clapping during the pandemic – out of pocket and working even longer hours.
Trade unions have a key role to play in all of this. Employers want a motivated and productive workforce. Unions want their members to be treated fairly and to be able to participate fully in the workplace without compromising their family lives or general wellbeing.
Longer working hours and changes to rest breaks will likely lead to a decrease in efficiency and an increase in sickness. The exclusion of overtime from holiday pay entitlement calculations will lead to employees feeling undervalued and resentful. This is before we even start to consider employees who might need other support or reasonable adjustments.
Having strong employee rights – and absolute clarity around those rights – means that employees and employers alike can plan their time more effectively, work at a sustainable pace and help to nip causes of resentment and conflict in the bud.
It does not take an employment rights specialist to understand that happy and fulfilled employees are much more likely not only to fulfil the basic requirements of their jobs, but also to innovate and create positive change.
In October 2019, the honourable Member for South Northamptonshire, who was then business secretary, said in this chamber:
“As we leave the European Union, we have a unique opportunity to enhance protections for the workforce and tailor them to best support UK workers.”
So I will finish by asking the current Secretary of State why his government is not using this opportunity to strengthen those protections, rather than to reduce them. If he remains unconvinced, perhaps he should speak to some of our colleagues in the unions.