Theresa May had made big promises on workers’ rights today, but the Parliamentary record shows she hasn’t always been so committed to the cause.
The Prime Minister promised the Tory manifesto will safeguard rights currently guaranteed by EU law; such as the right to paid holiday, equal pay for women, maternity rights and fair treatment for part-time and agency workers.
These rights are part of the EU’s “social chapter”, which the Thatcher branded a “socialist charter” and the Tories opted-out of in 1991.
When Britain signed-up to the social chapter under the last Labour government, May claimed the decision would prevent women from finding jobs and be a “burden on businesses”.
Speaking in a Parliamentary debate on the issue of rights for part-time workers, she asked:
“The Minister failed to support the continuing need for a flexible economy and an increase in the number of part-time jobs for women. From the figures that the Minister gave, it is clear that any loss of part-time jobs will disproportionately affect women. What assessment has she made, therefore, of the number of women who will lose their part-time job as a result of the Government’s policy to sign up to the social chapter?”
In a debate on women’s rights, she said the social chapter would cause women to lose their jobs:
“The Government are loading extra costs on to business, which will affect women’s jobs. Many women will suffer as a result. That is not delivering for women….Their jobs are under threat from the Government’s adherence to the social chapter and handling of the economy.”
In the same debate, she also suggested that EU laws extending rights to parental leave were damaging businesses:
“The measures being introduced by the Government on the back of the social chapter and under the heading of family-friendly practices are, as yet, somewhat lacking in detail. For example, the Chemical Industries Associationrecently said:Every employer in the chemical industry will be hit by the proposals on parental leave. It is worrying that with Parental Leave due to be implemented by the end of the year, we have seen no detailed proposals from the Government indicating to employers just what they will have to do…a consultation period of at least three months would be needed to assess the likely impact of the regulations and respond accordingly.Where have the Government thought about the impact of what they describe as family-friendly policies on employers and the extent to which employers can afford them?”
In a debate on the economy, she said the last Labour government had increased the “burden on business” by signing the social chapter:
“In so many areas of the Government’s policy, Ministers are doing precisely that—increasing the burden on businesses. The Prime Minister claimed that, in signing the social chapter, he would be able to defend businesses from the type of burdens that my hon. Friend mentioned. The reality is that he cannot defend business, because of the voting structure in the European Union. He has been unable to defend businesses in the United Kingdom from such impositions, and, consequently, British businesses will suffer.”
She was still railing against the social chapter a decade later when she wrote a blog for Conservative Home in 2007 that began:
“Unbelievably, for the government that gave the unions the social chapter, several employment relations acts, new union rights, a cop-out on public sector pensions, the Warwick Agreement, and the Union Modernisation Fund, some journalists are still prepared to say that, these days, Labour stand up to the unions.”
As for the commitment to increase the National Living Wage, that’s from a women who voted against the introduction of the minimum wage.
We’ll take Theresa May at her word…