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Workplace Access Rights

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – in the House of Commons on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of Faisal Rashid Faisal Rashid Labour, Warrington South

What recent assessment she has made of the adequacy of workplace access rights for trades unions.

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

All workers in the UK have the right to join a union and to participate in union activities. That right is protected under trade union law, and 23% of UK employees are union members. That is higher than some European countries, including France and Germany, and it demonstrates that union rights to recruit and organise through individual members and officials are sufficient.

Photo of Faisal Rashid Faisal Rashid Labour, Warrington South

This week shocking reports have emerged about dire workplace conditions at Amazon. Those exploited workers desperately need a union, but workers at Amazon have had their shift patterns interrupted just to prevent them from talking to union officials on the way to work. When will the Government put an end to those draconian anti-union practices, and will the Secretary of State launch an investigation into reports of workers’ rights being violated at Amazon?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is the right of unions and employers to come to an agreement about representation in the workplace. The Central Arbitration Committee is available if that is refused. With regard to workers’ rights, the good work plan represents the biggest reform of workers’ rights in 20 years. We are determined to continue on that path, because workers’ rights are important to this Government.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I believe that my constituents’ workplace rights should keep step with those of citizens across the EU, but on reading the WAB, or European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, last night I see that my constituents will have to wait on Tory Ministers deciding to replicate progressive EU change. I believe that back in 2010 the Secretary of State said her vision was for small firms to give

“no minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no pension rights”.—[Official Report, 10 May 2012;
Vol. 545, c. 209.]

Is it therefore not the case that so-called progressive MPs who support the Withdrawal Agreement Bill will never be forgiven for putting the rights of workers into the hands of Thatcherites?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

It will come as no surprise that I completely disagree with the hon. and learned Lady. The Prime Minister has been clear: not only will we maintain workers’ rights, but we will enhance them. Even in my role as a Minister over the past 12 years, everything has been focused on ensuring we are ahead of the European Union. We are committed. We have never, ever, not once ever put forward a position where we have shown we will row back on workers’ rights.

Photo of Laura Pidcock Laura Pidcock Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour), Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights

Wow! What an answer. This is the situation for workers at Amazon: their bones are being broken, they are being knocked unconscious and they are being taken away in ambulances. Where is the urgency to step in and stop what is happening to these workers? Are the Government going to demand an urgent inquiry, or do they wash their hands of these workers? At the heart of the issue at Amazon is a hostile environment for trade unions, which are often the only force that can resist exploitative practices. A Labour Government would legislate to enforce access rights for trade unions and a robust enforcement regime. Why are the Government sitting on their hands while the richest man in the world treats his workers so disgustingly on their watch?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

The hon. Lady makes allegations about a particular organisation. She is welcome to write to me further about those allegations, but I remind her that sufficient workplace laws are in place. We have the Health and Safety Executive, for example. If she has evidence of certain employers breaking the law, I would expect it to be passed on to the relevant agencies. As I outlined, our Prime Minister is committed to ensuring that we keep step with the European Union and go further. I believe the actions the Government have taken over recent months prove that.