Labour’s new shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, will use her first House of Commons appearance in her new role to claim the government is “set to fail” workers after the COVID pandemic.
Opening the Queen’s Speech debate for Labour on Wednesday, Ms Reeves will attack the absence of an Employment Bill from the government’s legislative agenda for the next parliamentary session.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had vowed, in December 2019, to introduce such a bill in the last parliamentary session in order to “protect and enhance workers’ rights” after Brexit.
However, none was forthcoming and an Employment Bill was not included in Tuesday’s Queen Speech, setting out the government’s new legislative agenda.
Amid criticism from trade unions that Mr Johnson had “rowed back” on his pledge, Number 10 said the “profound effects” of the coronavirus crisis on the economy had delayed the introduction of a bill.
But Labour has accused the government of a “glaring omission” from Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech over legislation, it said, had been promised more than 50 times by ministers.
The party has also focussed on a “catalogue of broken promises and delays for British workers”.
This includes on zero-hour contracts, the strengthening of redundancy protections during pregnancy and maternity leave and paid leave for unpaid carers and neonatal care.
Labour has also accused the Conservatives of failing on policies to support flexible working, failing to tackle a backlog of employment tribunal cases, and inaction on implementing the recommendations of the 2017 Taylor Review on modern working, such as for those in the “gig economy”.
Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Ms Reeves will say: “To meet the challenges facing us as a country the government must plan for the future.
“Our economic foundations were not strong enough going into the pandemic and as we thankfully emerge from it, people deserve something better than before.
“We need a transformation of our economy, so all workers have not only the skills they need, but fair pay for a fair day’s work, and greater security and opportunities for the future.
“That’s got to be a major test of this Queen’s Speech and one the government looks set to fail.
“Labour would deliver a fair recovery, by valuing those who have kept our country moving, helping British industries to thrive and by creating good quality jobs in every community as we decarbonise our economy.”
Ms Reeves was installed as Labour’s shadow chancellor by party leader Sir Keir Starmer following his weekend shadow cabinet reshuffle.
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Sir Keir sacked Ms Reeves predecessor, Anneliese Dodds, who he moved to a role as Labour Party chair.
It came after Labour’s loss in the Hartlepool by-election and the party’s disastrous local election results.
On Tuesday, when asked why there was no Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We’re committed to bringing forward an Employment Bill to protect and enhance workers’ rights as we build back better from the pandemic.
“Through this legislation we are determined to build a high-skilled, high-productivity, high-wage economy that delivers on our ambition to make the UK best placed in the world to work and grow a business.
“We will introduce the Employment Bill when the time is right given the profound effects the pandemic is having on the economy and the labour market. In the meantime, we’re taking and have taken unprecedented but necessary steps to support businesses and protect jobs and we will continue to do so.”
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