This Queen’s speech will not deliver growth
We needed a programme for growth in the Queen’s speech, instead we have an incoherent hotchpotch that will do little or nothing to deal with our fundamental economic problems or create jobs. The main obstacle remains the government’s mistaken policies of austerity that have sent the economy back into reverse.
Even those proposals that go in the right direction have too often been watered down so we have a green investment bank that is not a real bank and executive pay curbs that lack teeth.
What is worst is that ministers are wrapping up a real attack on rights at work as good for growth and employment. Those who opposed the minimum wage and rights for paid holidays are using the recession as a cover to introduce policies that they know have little support and that will be seen as nasty by most. There is no actual evidence that making work insecure does anything for the economy – easy fire will not lead to new hires.
This is no more than a bad boss’s charter that will make people insecure at work and will feed straight into lower consumer confidence.
Even where legal protections remain, the government is to undermine them by reducing inspections or making it far more difficult to take tribunal cases – which have been falling over the past year, contrary to claims from some business organisations.
The UK already has the second lowest level of worker protection among the 36 rich countries in the OECD, and the government has made it possible for employers to sack staff for no reason for up to two years from when they start. The government’s own surveys show that excess regulation is cited by only six per cent of small and medium sized businesses as a big barrier to growth. Their real problems are the depressed economy and difficulties with bank lending.
This agenda is likely to be controversial within government. The lack of evidence that it will help the economy shows that this is driven by the hard-right agenda set out in the secret report by Wonga owner and Tory donor Adrian Beecroft. Those who opposed the minimum wage are using the economic crisis as an excuse to roll back modest employee protection.
In particular we will oppose lump-sum benefits in lieu of maternity pay and cuts to maternity rights that will particularly hit poorer mothers. ‘Protected conversations’ in which employers are free from legal constraints are deeply unfair to employees and likely to be unworkable in practice. Removing rights from staff in small businesses will turn them into second class citizens at work, and make it harder for smaller firms to recruit good staff.
Of course any modest increase in rights to request flexible working is welcome, but this should not obscure the fact that this government is taking the workplace backwards