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Six times Theresa May undermined workers’ rights instead of strengthening them

Like any good revolutionary, Theresa May seems to have reinvented herself. Here are all the times her actions didn’t seem very comrade-like at all...

All hail Comrade Theresa! The Prime-Minister-in-waiting has promised to expand workers’ rights if she wins on 8 June 2017. She is pledging to keep all workers’ rights currently guaranteed by EU law (thanks, Mrs Brexit), and give workers who need to care for a relative unpaid leave for a year. 

But here’s the thing. Like any good revolutionary, Theresa May seems to have reinvented herself. Here are all the times her actions didn’t seem very comrade-like at all...

1. When she voted for employment tribunal fees

Not only did the Coalition government cut legal aid, but it hiked fees for employment tribunals, which were previously free to access. It means that anyone who felt they had been unfairly treated at work has to pay hundreds of pounds upfront before they get the privilege of challenging their employer. 

Theresa May voted for the legislation. After it passed, the number of employment tribunal cases plummeted. She also voted in favour of raising the period before you can claim unfair dismissal from one to two years. 

2. When she voted in favour of the Trade Unions Bill

The Trade Unions Bill raised the minimum turnout needed for a vote to strike, but also prevented trade unions from using electronic voting - therefore making it harder to raise the voter participation in the first place. 

While May was absent for the final vote, she has consistently voted in favour of raising the threshold.

3. When she voted against automatically giving workers a pension

One of the Coalition’s few progressive acts was forcing employers to offer a workplace pension to everyone who could afford it, and contribute towards it – a rule which allowed some workers to save for retirement for the first time.

Apparently, May was so opposed to her own government’s policy that she voted against it in 2010

4. When she hired Priti Patel and Liam Fox

In 2012, Liam Fox wrote in the FT that:

“To restore Britain’s competitiveness we must begin by deregulating the labour market. Political objections must be overridden. It is too difficult to hire and fire and too expensive to take on new employees. It is intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable while output and employment are clearly cyclical.”

May appointed him International Trade secretary. 

Another Brexiteer, Priti Patel, suggested during the EU referendum campaign that leaving the EU would allow Britain to “halve the burdens” of social and employment legislation. May made her International Development secretary. 

5. When her MPs talked out a bill on workers’ rights

In January, the Labour MP Melanie Onn put forward a private member’s bill to safeguard workers’ rights after Brexit. 

As she wrote for The Staggers at the time:

Last Friday, my bill to protect workers’ rights after Brexit was due to be debated and voted on in the House of Commons. Instead I sat and watched several Tory MPs speak about radios for more than four hours.

6. When she gave herself small print in the Great Repeal Bill

Whether or not you think May is on the workers’ side matters, because – if the polls are correct – her government will wield huge amounts of power over workers’ rights.

Those EU rights she pledged to keep? They are enshrined in the Great Repeal Bill, which is carefully structured to include “Henry VIII” clauses. These allow the government to tinker with legislation without undergoing the scrutiny of pesky parliamentarians. 

In other words, May could be genuine about maintaining workers' rights, but if she changes her mind, there's not much anyone can do to stop her. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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