Ed Milband addresses Labour Party conference, 2012. Photo: Getty
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Labour's young people manifesto keeps the promise of Britain alive

The launch of Labour's groundbreaking young people manifesto today is further evidence of Ed Miliband's determination to put the future of the younger generation at the heart of this election campaign.

The launch of Labour's groundbreaking young people manifesto today is further evidence of Ed Miliband's determination to put the future of the younger generation at the heart of this election campaign.

This generation of young people are energetic, creative and leading a new era of innovation. They believe in personal responsibility but are crying out for a Government which is on their side. They have been abandoned by a Tory party which has nothing to say to young  people and the Lib Dems whose broken promises have not only damaged their own support but massively corroded trust in politicians and the capacity of politics to make a difference. Too many young people are weighed down by debt and held back by insecure work with little prospect of career progression. Home ownership is a distant dream. One young person said to me recently echoing the sentiments of many, "I've worked hard and done everything right, but I'm stuck in a rut and don't feel good about the future."

Labour's manifesto, a Better Future for Young People, addresses these issues with an overriding commitment to restore the promise of Britain that each generation should do better than the last.

It is plan to support for young people pursuing their ambitions and fulfilling their potential –

to give them a stronger voice in shaping the decisions which affect their lives and our democracy.

One of the clearest illustrations of how this government is failing young people is the growing number of careers and professions which are effectively closed shops, only accessible to young people who have significant financial means or family support – “the Bank of Mum and Dad”.  This deeply entrenched unfairness is seen in the internships offered in highly sought-after sectors like the arts, media, fashion and finance, where young people are expected to work unpaid for months at a time. This means those without financial support are locked out of opportunities. It is partially responsible for the alarming stalling of social mobility in Britain, It cannot be in the interests of British business to limit their talent pool now and fail to invest in the next generation of workers.

Building on the excellent work by Labour's Shadow Minister for Universities, Liam Byrne, Ed Miliband is announcing today that an incoming Labour Government will legislate to ensure that anyone undertaking work experience for more than four weeks should be paid at the very least the minimum wage.

We are confident this will be supported by the vast majority of responsible employers, many of whom already do the right thing. As with current legislation governing the minimum wage, people undertaking voluntary work will not be affected.

Labour’s Manifesto for Young People was drawn up after extensive engagement with young people across the country through our Shape Your Future campaign. It addresses many of the issues they tell us are holding them back and making them feel insecure about the future.

 Other measures being announced today include:

  •  Reducing graduate and national debt, by cutting tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 and increasing student maintenance grants by £400
  •  Guaranteeing high quality apprenticeships for all school-leavers that get the grades.
  •  Making work pay by banning exploitative zero-hours contracts, and raising the National Minimum Wage to more than £8 by October 2019.
  •  Investing in the jobs of the future and showing our commitment to climate change by making Britain a world leader in low carbon technology over the next decade, creating a million more green jobs.
  •  Ensuring no young person is left behind, by guaranteeing a paid starter job with training to all those unemployed for more than a year.
  •  Tackling rising housing costs, by building more homes, helping first time buyers and legislating for longer and more affordable tenancies in the private rented sector.
  •  Strengthening the voice of young people by giving 16 and 17 year-olds the right to vote.
  • With polling day three weeks away, Labour is once again challenging conventional wisdom in this election.

We are focusing on the hopes and ambitions of young people, not writing them off as disengaged and disillusioned. By doing so, we are recognising that only by utilising the talents of all young people will Britain succeed in the future. We are backing young Britain but also the parents and grandparents who have devoted their lives to ensuring their children and grandchildren have better life chances than they had.

Labour's young people manifesto can be read in full here.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.