Speech delivered to Scottish Labour Party conference during the ‘Prosper’ policy debate on 7 March 2015:
Good afternoon, colleagues. I want to talk to you today about the issue of justice and its importance in allowing our country and its people to prosper.
Without justice, we cannot hope to have a fair and equal society; without fairness and equality, there is no justice. This is at the heart of the Labour Party’s mission.
A topic of such breadth and importance would require more time than I have today to say all that needs to be said. I will therefore restrict my remarks to one area that will mean a lot to everyone in this room and the wider Labour movement: workers’ rights.
Too often in my work as a lawyer, I see clients whose rights have been trampled on by unscrupulous employers and, increasingly, clients whose rights have been abolished by this Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government.
Zero hour contracts give workers no security in work and no protection in law. They have no entitlement to sick pay should they fall ill or suffer injury. Only a Labour government will ban this abhorrent practice.
The Coalition increased the minimum period for employee rights to two years service. Workers are left more vulnerable to dismissal without any legal recourse.
And dramatic increases in tribunal fees mean that even when workers have gained their rights, there are barriers to defending them. Claims to tribunals have already fallen by 60%.
In 2013, the Coalition abolished workers’ rights to hold employers responsible for breaches of health and safety regulations through civil court actions. Between 1990 and last year, the number of fatal accidents at work fell from 368 to 133. This is still 133 too many and if employers are able to casually or deliberately disregard the safety of their employees without consequence, this number will only increase.
The Labour movement spent over one hundred years advancing and promoting the rights of workers in this country. We have seen how quickly they can be dismantled. The most vulnerable in our country have been made even more vulnerable. I dread to think what the Tories could do with another five years of power.
Business, the economy and our country will prosper when workers have security in work, safety in work and dignity in work. Good employers recognise this.
Only by returning a Labour government in May can we repair the work done by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and advance the cause of fairness, equality and justice in the workplace across the United Kingdom.