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...

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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.