Unions vow to ‘hold Labour’s feet to the fire’ over manifesto’s workers rights pledge

Sir Keir Starmer has been given 100 days to make good on his promises to workers, with unions promising to “hold Labour’s feet to the fire”.

The Labour leader set out his party’s manifesto on Thursday, including the promise to introduce a “new deal for working people”.

The package, which would be the biggest shakeup of Labour laws in a generation, would see Labour repeal Tory anti-strike laws, end the use of “fire and rehire” and strengthen day one employment rights for employees.

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Unions feared Sir Keir would row back on the package under pressure from business lobbyists, but have welcomed its inclusion in the general election manifesto.

Keir Starmer promised workers he would ‘raise your wages and your security’ (AP)
Keir Starmer promised workers he would ‘raise your wages and your security’ (AP)

And after Sir Keir’s speech, at the Co-op headquarters in Manchester, union bosses vowed to hold Labour to account over the promises.

Matt Wrack, president of the Trades Union Congress, said workers have faced “constant attacks on their pay, pensions and public services” under 14 years of Tory rule.

And he said Labour’s new deal for working people could improve the lives of millions, with the repeal of anti-strike laws a “vital first step”.

Mr Wrack, also president of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “It will be our duty to ensure that a new Labour government makes good on these promises within the first 100 days of taking power. We will hold Labour’s feet to the fire.”

Other union chiefs demanded Labour go further than the plans set out in its manifesto, with Unite, Labour’s biggest union donor, saying the party needed to “make government count”.

General secretary Sharon Graham said the rise of the far right in Europe should set alarm bells ringing for Sir Keir, adding that he “must listen to workers and communities”.

Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham said Labour needs to go further in power (PA Archive)
Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham said Labour needs to go further in power (PA Archive)

She stressed that the country needs Labour to win, but added: “With rising geopolitical tensions, a cost of living crisis and rampant inequality, now is not the time to be timid. As we vote Labour - we also need them to be bold.”

Unite was the only Labour-affiliated union that did not endorse the manifesto, having previously called for the party to offer stronger employment rights.

The National Education Union (NEU) meanwhile punched a Labour bruise, calling for the party to commit to scrapping the two-child benefit cap, a policy left out of the manifesto.

Sir Keir previously promised to scrap the cap, which prevents parents from claiming benefits for any third or subsequent child born after April 2017.

NEU president Daniel Kebede said: “Child poverty costs our economy £39 billion per year. While welcoming the introduction of free school breakfast clubs for primary school children, we urge Labour to commit to removing the two-child benefit cap. Such a move would lift 300,000 children out of poverty.”

Gordon Brown has called for the two-child benefit cap to be scrapped (PA Wire)
Gordon Brown has called for the two-child benefit cap to be scrapped (PA Wire)

Sir Keir has long faced pressure from Labour MPs and grandees to scrap the cap, including from former prime minister Gordon Brown.

Delivering his manifesto speech, Sir Keir told assembled MPs, activists and reporters: “This changed Labour Party has a plan for growth: we are pro-business and pro-worker. The party of wealth creation.

“We will level up your rights at work – a choice ignored for 14 years – and raise your wages and your security.”

The manifesto says Labour will consult with businesses, workers and civil society on how to put the party’s plans into practice before legislation is passed.

"This will include banning exploitative zero-hours contracts, ending fire and rehire; and introducing basic rights from day one to parental leave, sick pay, and protection from unfair dismissal," it says.

"We will strengthen the collective voice of workers, including through their trade unions, and create a Single Enforcement Body to ensure employment rights are upheld."

Labour said the changes will improve the lives of working people across the entire UK.

The manifesto said Labour will also make sure the minimum wage is a "genuine living wage", adding: "We will change the remit of the independent Low Pay Commission so for the first time it accounts for the cost of living.

"Labour will also remove the discriminatory age bands, so all adults are entitled to the same minimum wage, delivering a pay rise to hundreds of thousands of workers across the UK."

GMB general secretary Gary Smith said: “Labour’s manifesto offers a vision of hope for the UK after 14 years of disasters.

"The New Deal for Working People is a once in a generation chance to completely transform the lives of working people."