Monday, 21 May 2012

Workers' rights - clear differences between Lib Dems and Conservatives

There's a bit of a spat in Westminster between right-wing Tories - who are demanding that the government introduce the ability for firms to fire staff at will - and Lib Dem Vince Cable who has said the idea is "complete nonsense".

And here in Cornwall, the Lib Dems are opposing the idea of regional pay bargaining which would see lower pay for public sector workers despite higher living costs. The Conservative Leader of Cornwall Council said he supported the concept. At the same time, many council jobs are being transferrd to the private sector and workers are seeing their terms and conditions worsened.

In The Sun, Vince Cable writes:
"Some people think that if labour rights were stripped down to the most basic minimum, employers would start hiring and the economy would soar again. This is complete nonsense. British workers are an asset, not just a cost for company bosses. That is why I am opposed to the ideological zealots who want to encourage British firms to fire at will."
The argument about regional (or local) public sector pay is pretty clear. It is perceived that living is cheaper in Cornwall and therefore that pay can be lowered. However this ignores the high costs of public transport, high house prices and lack of access to leisure and other facilities. It would also be the beginning of a downward spiral. If public sector pay is cut then private sector pay will follow suit. Cornwall is already the poorest part of the UK and regional pay will simply exacerbate the situation. No wonder local Lib Dem MPs have come out against it and Nick Clegg has also spoken out on the issue."

But that is not the end of the concern locally. The continued transfer of core council services to the private sector is also leading to lower pay and worse conditions for staff doing the same job. It's not the case for all transferred staff, of course, and TUPE regulations should protect conditions in the initial stages. But, whilst new jobs are always welcome, we should not accept the idea that Cornwall is edging towards the lowest common denominator. We want high quality (and well paid) jobs as well as those at minimum wage.

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