Informed by my regular discussions with trade unions, we have extended worker rights, and both Houses agreed last month to close the Swedish derogation loophole to protect agency workers. On 1 April, we celebrated with union representatives the 20th anniversary of the national minimum wage. The day was marked by the rise in the national living wage, which has delivered the fastest pay rise for the lowest paid in at least 20 years, benefiting nearly 1.8 million workers.
The Scottish Trades Union Congress general secretary, Grahame Smith, has said that the Scottish Government’s
“Fair Work Action Plan demonstrates a commitment to using the powers the Government has at its disposal to deliver Fair Work, which is good for workers and good for business.”
Will the Secretary of State do his bit by introducing a real living wage? If not, will he devolve the policy so that the Scottish Government can?
What the hon. Gentleman did not mention is that this Government introduced the national living wage, and we have just increased it to its highest-ever level, benefiting millions of people around the country. I would have thought that he would welcome that.
There are many warm words from the Government on workers’ rights, but to say that the Conservatives are the party of workers is a joke, because their actions in government tell a different story. Strong economies are almost always underpinned by strong trade union rights. Germany, Sweden, Norway and Denmark all have extensive sectoral collective bargaining coverage, which has been used to reduce income inequality and drive up wages. The hostility towards trade unions and the dismissal of collective bargaining here is not just bad for workers but bad for the economy, creating a vicious cycle of lower wages, reducing tax revenues and lowering spending. The obsession with undermining union rights is self-defeating. What is the Secretary of State doing to break the cycle?
If you want to be the party of workers, you need to be the party that creates work. There are 1.5 million more people employed in work as a result of this Government’s policies, and of course we want to make sure they are in good jobs. The effort of our industrial strategy is to drive up productivity, which is necessary if pay rates are to increase over time. The hon. Lady should acknowledge the reforms, brought in partly as a result of the Matthew Taylor report, that have closed the Swedish derogation, which her party failed to close over 13 years in office.