While the eyes of the world were on Greece, the Conservatives quietly launched a new assault on workers’ rights. Iain Duncan Smith announced that low-paid workers will lose their benefits if they go on the strike. Under the current system, workers on wages of £13,000 or less can claim tax credits. But under IDS’s proposals, there will be no increase in benefits if a worker’s income drops due to strike action. He said:
It is totally wrong that the current benefit system compensates workers and tops up their income when they go on strike. This is unfair to taxpayers and creates perverse incentives.
Striking is a choice, and in future benefit claimants will have to pay the price for that choice, as under universal credit, we no longer will.
It’s hard to think of a more inappropriate attack on the right to strike. Low-paid workers (in this case, those on wages just over £13,000) are often those with the greatest cause to walk out. Indeed, as I’ve argued before, if ministers want to tackle Britain’s substandard wages, they should encourage stronger, not weaker, trade unions. And as the TUC’s head of economics, Nicola Smith, pointed out, since the money workers lose in pay while striking is “far more significant than the small amounts of top-ups they get through the tax credits system”, it is also inaccurate of Duncan Smith to suggest that the current system “creates perserve incentives”.
Labour has already spoken out against the plans, with shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne accusing Duncan Smith of “starving people back to work”. But again, one asks, where are the Lib Dems?