Theresa May's workers' rights pledges don't live up to the hype

For many employees these will be rights in name only.


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Theresa May will announce 11 new policies designed to seize Labour voters in a speech today/to rebuild the economy so it works for working people (delete as you see fit).

Among the headlines: a rise in the minimum wage, all existing workers' rights to be guaranteed after we leave the European Union, further rights for people working in the gig economy, representation for workers on board and a new statutory right for employees to receive "reasonable" information about decisions effecting their company's future. Rounding off the big ticket items are new statutory rights to request leave for training purposes and the right to unpaid leave for carers.

As far as today's headlines go, it's "Mission Accomplished" as far as the PM is concerned.  "Workers offered new deal by Tories" is the i's splash, "Workers get leave to care for elderly" is the Telegraph's, "May gives all workers new rights to time off" is the Times' take, while the Mail opts for "Your right to time off if relative needs care". The Guardian goes for the more equivocal "Labour and Tories step up the fight to win working class vote" as their splash, folding in Labour's latest pledges to slash NHS waiting times.

But does it live up to the hype? There are a couple of reasons to be sceptical, and not just because it's election season. That the Conservatives have no plan to scrap the employment tribunal fees they introduced means that these "new rights" are not worth very much. Rights you can't afford to sue for are not much use for gig economy workers or anyone else.

Equally, the right to unpaid leave to care for the elderly will, for most people, be a right in name only. Putting tanks on Labour's lawn? Maybe, but the kind you buy from Toys R Us not BAE Systems.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.