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What’s a Labour government for?

February 23, 2008

All right, this post is not going to focus on the big sins of the Labour government – the war in Iraq, detention without trial, the long hard road to fascism – but on something smaller, but something that is a core indicator that the Labour Party is worth nothing at all.

The trade unions have been promoting a private members bill that will give agency workers the same rights as permanent staff. Anyone who’s aware of 21st century labour realtions knows this is an issue: a lot of major companies circumvent labour law by outsourcing their recruitment to agencies. If they don’t like some one, they can phone the agency and tell them to send some one else. Firing, no mess, no fuss.

I worked for an agency for a while. It was horrible: all jobs paid minimum wage, you weren’t paid for breaks, and you often had to travel long distances for work. There was no way you could earn enough money to live on.

On my worst day, I spent 16 hours away from home and was paid for 6 of them, at minimum wage.

To make matters worse, you had to sign away your rights to a 48 hour week and suck up to the recruiters in order to get shifts. You were their bitch, and if you made a fuss you didn’t get work.

There are 1.4 million agency workers going through this in the UK right now, and the unions have worked hard to put a stop to it. Because it’s almost impossible to organise in agencies – workers come and go – they have relied on getting legislation passed by their comrades in government.

But here’s the Labour government’s view on it all:

But Brown’s junior business minister, Pat McFadden, told MPs that the government’s proposed commission was the best way to address concerns.

“What the government has been engaging with is the aim of establishing a social partnership akin to what we did with the minimum wage – to agree some of the important details around the issue,” he said.

The minister added: “We believe from the government’s point of view that this is a constructive and positive suggestion to try and make progress in a way that offers real protection yet takes account of the specific conditions of the UK labour market and gives both unions and business a voice on the outcome.”

Explaining the government’s refusal to back the bill, McFadden said that its main objection was the qualifying period and how to calculate equal treatment.

He said: “One assumes we would be giving equal pay from day one. It could lead to some companies not doing the work or outsourcing or asking existing workers to work longer hours.”

Businesses like agencies because it allows them to hire and fire with no fuss. And Labour slavishly follows the desires of big business, and the tabloid newspapers.

If we can’t even rely on Labour to provide the most basic demands – equal pay for equal work – what the fuck are they for? The unions support them but get nothing in return.

So can someone please explain to me: what are the Labour Party for?

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