Election 2017

General election 2017: Workers' rights protections promised by Tories

Theresa May in Oxfordshire Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Theresa May campaigning in Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Theresa May is promising what she says would be the biggest expansion of workers' rights by any Conservative government, if the party retains power.

Its manifesto will promise to keep all workers' rights currently guaranteed by EU law, put worker representation on company boards and protect pensions.

There would also be a statutory right to a year's unpaid leave to care for a relative, under the election plans.

But Labour said Mrs May was "taking working people for fools".

And the GMB union said its members would "believe it when they see it".

In what BBC political correspondent Ben Wright says is an "unabashed pitch for Labour voters", Mrs May promised a "new deal for workers", with a string of proposals.

The statutory right to leave to care for a family member is similar to provision that already exists in countries such as the Republic of Ireland.

There would also be statutory leave for parents whose child has died.

Other measures would include new protections for people in the "gig economy", a statutory right to training, measures to protect workers' pensions in the wake of the BHS scandal, and a guarantee that European Union rights will be protected in the Brexit process.

The national living wage for workers aged 25 and over, currently £7.50 an hour, would rise in line with average earnings until 2022.

Image caption Theresa May visited Tech Pixies to hear about 'returnships'

The Conservatives would also insist listed companies had representation for workers on their boards - whether on advisory panels, as a non-executive director or through a directly appointed worker representative - although firms would not be forced to have actual employees in the boardroom.

Work and pensions minister Damian Green denied this was a watering down of an earlier pledge by Theresa May, saying each of the three options would "get the voices of workers in the boardroom".

He also told the Today programme allowing workers to take a year off to care for a relative was about achieving a "happy and contented workforce".

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Media captionThe Prime Minister took questions on mental health and housing from members of the public

"All evidence shows that if people feel happy at work then they are more productive," he said.

Mrs May, visiting Oxfordshire, said: "By working with business, reducing taxes and dealing with the deficit, we have delivered steady improvements to the economic prospects of working people.

"Now is the time to lock in that economic growth and ensure the proceeds are spread to everyone in our country."

She said they also wanted to "encourage and support returnships", to help women get the skills and experience needed when they want to return to work after looking after children.

Answering questions from the public later in an ITV Facebook Live, she acknowledged it would be "difficult" for many people to take a year off work to care for a loved one if they were unpaid but said this and other measures amounted to the biggest single extension of workplace rights ever offered by the Conservatives.

However, when pressed on whether she could guarantee free bus passes for pensioners and disabled people in the future, she said people would have to wait until the party's manifesto later this week to find out.

Labour, which has repeatedly warned of the threat to workers' rights posed by Brexit, dismissed the announcement.

It argued the Tories had overseen an "era of non-compliance of employment law", an "explosion in low pay and stagnating wages" and a "massive expansion in bogus self-employment".

'End pay squeeze'

It also said a pledge from Mrs May to put workers on company boards had been "watered down".

"Theresa May and her Tory government have failed to stand up for workers, with hundreds of thousands not being paid the money owed to them, thousands unable to get their case against their employer heard, and hundreds of complaints of employment agency malpractice going un-investigated," said campaign chairman Andrew Gwynne.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats' former business secretary, said: "The Conservatives tried to ban workers from striking and were blocked by the Liberal Democrats in government.

"It's clear they aren't the party of workers' rights and that you can't trust them to care about you and your family."

GMB general secretary Tim Roache said achieving the greatest expansion of workers' rights by a Conservative government "wouldn't be that hard to achieve given recent history".

He called for an end to the squeeze on public sector pay and to the "wide scale abuse" of agency contracts.

Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said: "It is almost laughable that the Tories are trying to pitch themselves as a party that stands up for workers' rights. The Conservative government tried to bring in anti-strike laws, oversaw a huge increase in zero hours contracts and attempted to shut down trade unions."