Jessica Fino 15 May 2017 04:47pm

Theresa May announces workers' rights pledges

The prime minister has pledged to introduce the “greatest expansion in workers’ rights” in the UK if the Conservative party is re-elected

Theresa May confirmed over the weekend that her party's manifesto will include plans to increase the National Living Wage (NLW) in line with median earnings until the end of the next parliament in 2022, as well as new protections for ‘gig’ economy workers and the protection of all workers’ rights currently guaranteed by EU law.

The party also promised to introduce a new statutory right to request leave for training purposes, to help workers gain the skills they need to retain good, well-paid jobs.

Moreover, it pledged to introduce new return-to-work programmes after a period of absence and said it would reform the Equalities Act.

Later on Monday, May added that firms will also be required to publish data on “racial pay disparities”.

However, the Labour party claims to have discovered "in the small print" that the Conservatives' changes to NLW effectively amount to a pay decrease.

The opposition explained that the former chancellor George Osborne had promised the NLW would reach £9 per hour by 2020, and that the government's pledge to increase the wage “in line with median incomes” means it will be lower than previously promised.

Those changes would mean that the NLW would increase to only £8.20 in 2020. The Labour party has pledged to raise the NLW to £10.

Ian Lavery, Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator accused Theresa May of "taking working people for fools".

Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary said the commitments were promising but warned “much more detail is needed”.

She added, “Before the election, the Conservatives must set out the protections they will offer gig economy workers, and confirm that workers will be able to speak for themselves on company boards. They should also clarify that they’re sticking to their 2020 target for the NLW.

“Working people have a right to know these details before they cast their votes. And while it's good to see the PM reaffirm her pledge to protect existing rights at work, she needs to ensure that British workers don’t miss out on future EU rights too.”

Meanwhile, Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said, "I'm sure there will be plenty of fanfare that the Conservatives have realised the importance of working people's votes, but the 'greatest extension of workers rights by a Tory Government' frankly wouldn't be that hard to achieve given recent history.

"GMB members will believe it when they see it.”

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) pointed out that businesses worry about the prospect of costly or bureaucratic new obligations, “no matter how well-intentioned”.

"We will be watching closely as more detail emerges on these proposals, to ensure that they do not give rise to expensive new obligations or unintended consequences - especially for the hundreds of thousands of civic-minded businesses who already do everything in their power to engage, support, train and reward their workforce.

"In the past, we have seen campaign-season promises on workplace rights create unrealistic expectations, and undermine relationships that have been painstakingly built up between firms and employees over many years. That must not be allowed to occur if some, or all, of these proposals become the law of the land."

The shadow chancellor John McDonnell said, if elected, the Labour party would introduce the financial transactions tax (FTT), or so-called “Robin Hood” tax, in the City of London, which would raise a total of £26bn over the five years of the parliament.

The election will take place on 8 June.