The Staggers 28 April 2015 Chuka Umunna speech to Usdaw conference: "In the end, it is the customer who makes the choice" Chuka Umunna talks zero hours contracts, working in retail and the choice before Britain. The mark is on him. Photo:Getty Sign UpGet the New Statesman's Morning Call email. Sign-up Now, I was elected to Parliament in 2010. I was a lawyer for almost a decade before that. But one of my first jobs was in the menswear store TM Lewin. I know that feeling when you’ve been standing all day serving customers, and you finally get to take the weight off your feet. That job taught me a lot. It taught me patience, how to read people, when to speak and when to be quiet – and that was just dealing with the managers. But there’s a very important truth about working in retail. For all the advice you can give to the customer – in the end, it is the customer who makes the choice. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today. In just over a week, the nation will go to the polls. And in a democracy, it is you – the voters – who get to make the choice. That’s right – it’s not the newspapers editors, the commentators or the pollsters who want to call the result before the match has finished. It is you who get to mark a cross in the box of your choice and set the future direction of our country. And this election is going to be the closest in years. Every vote will count. Now I know that that there are many in the movement who are supporting Labour. You have been out campaigning, pounding the pavements for a Labour government. You are the heart of our Party. But I also know that some of you have still not made up your minds. Our offer to you is this: we will build a Britain which works for working people – because we know that Britain only succeeds when working people succeed. Yes, we will cut the deficit every year and balance the books, but we will do it in a fair and balanced way. Now, if you want to know what an extreme austerity party looks like, then look no further than George Osborne’s extreme plans for the next Parliament. Cutting not because they have to, but because they want to. Look at the £30bn of departmental cuts that aren’t even mentioned in their manifesto. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says this will mean cuts of 18% in unprotected departments like the Business Department. Altogether, these departments will have been cut by a third since 2010. They are cutting services that people need and rely on, rather than asking those who can afford it to contribute a little more. The result will be cuts bigger than anywhere else amongst the world's advanced economies. That is because, as I say, their goal in all this is to hack of chunks of the public sector and shrink the support and investment the state provides to communities. Of course, they did all this in the name of reducing our debt, but because of George Osborne’s failures we are now spending more on paying debt interest to City investors and others who buy Government debt than we are spending on things like housing and transport. So, just as the Tories plan for extreme cuts is wrong, it would be wrong not to balance the books. Because there is nothing progressive about spending more in paying interest every year than you do on housing. And the truth is that the Tory-led government have left the public finances in a real mess and it will be down to the next Labour Government to clear up their mess. It’s what happens when you preside over the slowest recovery anyone can remember. It’s what happens when the growth that finally comes does not generate the tax receipts we need because it does not work for working people. So we will deal with our debts because it is the only responsible thing to do. But it is also the progressive thing to do. However, we will act only at a pace our economy can bear, and not at the cost of services people need. Let me be clear: Labour is no party of extreme austerity. Our plans are fair, measured and sensible in the circumstances. They deal with our past, so we can invest in our future. But perhaps most importantly, we will address the underlying reason why tax receipts are low – if people aren’t earning much, they aren’t paying much in tax either. That is why we will reform our economy so hard work is rewarded, prosperity is shared, and our economy that works for all. Because we are the Labour Party – the party of work and working people. Now, you can’t be in favour of better jobs if you are not also in favour of backing the businesses that create good jobs. So we are unashamedly pro-business. But, I say to the Tories who waste no time is denigrating our trade unions at every turn, you can't be pro-business if you are continually beating up on the terms and conditions of working people and on the organisations that represent them. Because it is through all stakeholders – government, business and our trade unions – working together that we will build that better future. We need you to be bringing the expertise and insight of those who are literally on the shop-floor into the strategic decision making of firms which I know you are already doing. And we need businesses willing to engage with you. We need firms to work together with others in their sector, to train workers and to develop new technologies. That’s why we will put the weight of government behind sectoral strategies, including in retail. To raise productivity, and improve job quality. This is how Britain can beat the competition, create the jobs of the future and really deliver for people. And because we care about what happens to be people at work, Ed Miliband could not have been clearer about our mission: to reduce insecurity, raise living standards and increase opportunity. The goal is better paid, more secure jobs. There is nothing inevitable about low pay and insecure employment. But first we need to make it possible for firms to pay higher wages. Only then is it right to require that we do. Our first task is to improve productivity in low-paying sectors, so firms can pay more. This will allow us to raise the minimum wage to £8 by 2019. And instead of wishing firms to pay a Living Wage, we will help make it possible for them to do so. Where they commit to paying the Living Wage, we will cut them some slack and give temporary tax breaks while they make the transition. No other party has matched these commitments. The use of zero hours contracts has exploded under this Government, and some firms are now using them as the norm. This is wrong. Some say we should ban their use outright. But – having chaired a summit with Usdaw and others on this issue – I don’t believe that is right either. There are some situations where zero hours contracts are used and people on them are happy with the arrangement. But where firms are using these contracts to exploit people, we will act. So if you are on a zero hours’ contract but are working regular hours, you will be entitled to a contract that reflects this reality after 12 weeks. We will also make it illegal to use agency workers to undercut the wages of permanent employees, changing the Agency Workers Regulation to end the so-called Swedish Derogation. And, let me say this: there is little point in having rights at work if you can’t take action when those rights are breached. So we will scrap the employment tribunal fees this government introduced and reform the system so that no one is denied access to justice. A secure job paying a wage you can live off is the foundation to a good life. But the cost of living is not just about the mone coming in. It is also about what you have to pay out. So Labour will support working families by increasing free childcare – from 15 to 25 hours for parents of three and four year olds. We will double paid paternity leave for fathers. We will freeze energy prices until 2017 while we reform the energy market. We will tackle the housing crisis by ensuring 200,000 new homes a year are built by 2020 and that renters get a farer deal. Doing the hard work to tackle the problems of everyday life which we understand, which the Tories don't get. Let me finish by saying this. Next week, whatever else you do, make sure you vote. In the closest of elections, make sure your voice is heard. And I hope you will vote Labour. The next Labour government won’t be about big spending. But it will be about big change. Responsible with the public finances, but radical in changing the country so that it works for you. Because Britain will only succeed when working people succeed. And when you cast your vote, you are voting not just for a party, but for a leader of our country. Nothing illustrates the difference between the two parties better. In Ed, we have a leader of deep beliefs, honesty and integrity, someone you can trust and where he sees unfairness or inequality like exploitation under zero hours contracts, instinctively seeks to act. On the other hand, in David Cameron, you have an out of touch prime minister who attacks those who seek to build a fairer society by stamping out exploitative zero hours contracts, while at the same time as saying he wouldn't want to work under one. Nothing could illustrate better the choice facing every voter at this election. It’s time for a Prime Minister who is on your side. It’s time for a Britain that works for you. It’s time for a Labour government. Thank you. › Have the Tories given up the fight in their number one target seat? Chuka Umunna is Labour MP for Streatham. Subscribe For daily analysis & more political coverage from Westminster and beyond subscribe for just £1 per month!