Union leader urges backing for Keir Starmer over diluted worker rights


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The head of a major UK trade union has urged comrades to “have faith” in Sir Keir Starmer, ahead of a crunch meeting between union bosses and the Labour leader on Tuesday to discuss the party’s rewritten package of employment reforms. 

Paddy Lillis, general secretary of shopworkers’ union Usdaw, urged fellow labour groups to avoid infighting and put aside concerns the party has watered down planned protections for workers.

Lillis, a key Starmer loyalist whose union has more than 300,000 members, told the Financial Times it would be “silly to derail a Labour victory” by complaining about the revised plan.

“If we don’t get a Labour victory in the election then there won’t be any New Deal at all,” he said. “There’s no reason to believe Keir Starmer will roll back on it.”

But other general secretaries have expressed concern about the ways in which the “New Deal for Working People” has already changed on multiple fronts, compared to its original iteration published in 2021. 

They say the party, which has a significant lead in the polls over the ruling Conservative party, toned down the measures after lobbying from business, citing changes made during the past three years.

Lillis’s backing, a rare public intervention, comes hours before Starmer faces a meeting with union leaders that is expected to be robust.

One Labour MP close to the trade unions said Tuesday’s meeting would be “fierce” given that many other union leaders were “upset” at how the pledges had changed over three years. 

A senior union figure said there had been tensions for days with Labour over the latest draft of the New Deal: “They’ve affected surprised that we are pissed off and outraged and not prepared to put up it,” they said. “People are really unhappy.”

Starmer himself has insisted “there will be no watering down” of the New Deal, during a meeting with Labour mayors in Wolverhampton on Monday.

But there have already been changes that have angered unions, including diluting a planned ban on zero-hour contracts and a “right to switch off”, as well as full employment protections from day one of a new job.

Labour had promised to introduce the bill within 100 days of winning office — however a leaked version of the document seen by the FT last week instead only committed to “starting the legislative process” and to producing a draft bill within 100 days. The new version also promises a full consultation on the measures.

Sharon Graham of Unite
Sharon Graham of Unite said ‘Workers will see through this and mark the retreat after retreat as a betrayal’ © Charlie Bibby/FT

Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite the Union, which was Labour’s biggest single donor during the past decade, said last week that the document represented “a row-back on a row-back”.  

“It is totally unrecognisable from the original proposals produced with the unions,” she argued. “Workers will see through this and mark the retreat after retreat as a betrayal.” 

Another senior union figure said that general secretaries were far from happy about the way the document had been changed. 

“People are really unhappy, and it is not the usual suspects, because Labour haven’t just watered down the policies, they’ve taken things out as well,” they said. “They are particularly pissed off because we were told repeatedly that there would be no watering down at all.”

But Labour has repeatedly insisted there have only been minimal changes to the New Deal since last summer’s national policy forum, the policy-shaping body at which several changes were brought in. It said the party would “hit the ground running” to implement its employment commitments if it forms the next government.  

Labour is still promising to reverse three pieces of anti-strike legislation introduced by the Conservative government in order to make it easier for workers to take industrial action. 

 



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