Show Hide image

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. 

Show Hide image

The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.