What should Labour do next?

By Mike Hedges

That Labour in the elections this May 2021, especially in the north of England and Scotland, did not appeal to enough working people is self- evident from the election results. But in Wales we had our joint best ever result.

I will address Scotland in a future article but in this, I will address issues that are necessary for Labour to regain support from non-voters, those voting for third parties, and those voting Conservative because these are issues that affect or potentially affect the day to day lives of people.

Along with many in the Labour party, I was critical of the Tony Blair Government especially over Iraq, but it must be remembered that the 1997 manifesto had in it the first minimum wage, a free vote to end hunting with hounds, education as a top priority, rebuilding the NHS, getting young people off benefits and into work, safeguarding the environment and building strong communities.

I am promoting a series of policies that not only will be popular but will enthuse voters to vote Labour.

The first is to outlaw Fire and Rehire. Firing staff only to rehire them on worse pay and employment terms should be outlawed. Polling suggesting the public backs a legal ban on the practice. The GMB union is now calling for a ban on the practice following the actions of British Gas towards its engineers. Fire and Rehire is a dirty, bullying tactic used by unscrupulous bosses. It has no place in the modern world of work, and the public knows it. So Labour should call for an end to Fire and Rehire tactics. A commitment now from the Labour party that it will be a priority when we return to power and in our next manifesto for the next Westminster election would be a good place to start.

Labour brought in the minimum wage, but we have now reached the stage where we should be legislating for the real Living Wage. The real Living Wage is based on the cost of living and is currently voluntarily paid by over 7,000 UK employers who believe a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. In April 2016, the government introduced a higher minimum wage rate for all staff over 25 years of age inspired by the Living Wage campaign, misnaming it the ‘national living wage’.

The minimum wage is not calculated according to what employees and their families need to live. Instead, it is based on a target to reach 66% of median earnings by 2024. Under current forecasts this means a rise to £10.50 per hour by 2024 and from 2021 it was adjusted to include those over 23 years old. Currently it is over £1 an hour less than the real living wage.

The real Living Wage rates are higher because they are independently-calculated, based on what people need to get by.  The law needs to be changed so that all employers ensure their employees earn a wage that meets the costs of living.

Employment status: if you work over 20 hours a week for one employer, then you are employed by them.  We have seen the rapid growth of a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs which is a form of exploitation with very little workplace protection.

This means that employees are not entitled to basic rights, including holiday pay and the national minimum wage. In the gig economy, instead of a regular wage, workers get paid for the “gigs” they do, such as a food delivery or a car journey.

We need legislation that says if you work over 20 hours a week for the same employer then you are employed by that employer and are entitled to all employment rights.

Many people live in inadequate housing, many others rent when they would prefer to buy and unfortunately others are homeless, living either on the street or more commonly in over-crowded accommodation with friends and family. This is often described as sofa surfing.

The only time in the post-war period when housing need was met was when large scale council housing was built. This then meant that previously privately rented accommodation became available to be bought and owner-occupation rates also went up.

This needs to be repeated so that everyone has a decent home and communities can prosper. When a community is made up of large numbers of people in short-term lets then the sense of community is lessened.

Improved employment protection, the real living wage, ending of people employed but being treated as self-employed and a decent home for all – these are basic policies based upon Labour’s core values and, I am sure, will get the support of the electorate.

Mike Hedges is the member of the Welsh Senedd for Swansea East.

Image: Senedd building. Source: Flickr. Author: eNil, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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