Labour promises to work with business

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The writer is deputy leader of the UK Labour party

Boris Johnson once said: “Fuck business.” And that’s exactly what he did. Since then, his successors as Conservative prime minister have followed suit.

The impact of this government’s dismissive approach to business — doing seemingly everything it can to turn away investment and disincentivise companies from setting up in the UK — has been dangerous. But this is only one side of the coin.

The other side is an economy left ravaged by widespread insecurity at work, low pay and poor worker wellbeing. Ministers should ask themselves how the scandal at P&O Ferries, when nearly 800 workers were forced out of their jobs at the drop of a hat, could happen in this day and age. Rights and protections have failed to keep up with the modern realities. Pay has stagnated and people find themselves locked out of work due to stress, poor health or family commitments.

The Tories once recognised the problem: a 2017 review called for significant changes to our labour market. But successive prime ministers then abandoned that agenda. The consequences for working people, battling the sharpest cost of living crisis in a generation, have been catastrophic.

This low-productivity, low-security and low-wage doom loop isn’t inevitable. Our international competitors show that a high-wage, high-productivity mix is possible — resting on a foundation of strong workers rights. Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and others have built a fairer distribution of wealth and more prosperity on this basis. The evidence shows that rather than being a barrier to economic growth, fair wages and better working conditions go hand in hand with it.

Labour’s “New Deal for Working People” will be a key part of our plan to grow the economy, moving from insecure, low-paid jobs to prosperity, strong employment rights and higher productivity. The New Deal will introduce basic rights from day one of employment, banning exploitative zero-hours contracts, ending fire-and-rehire and introducing a genuine living wage. This isn’t just a list of rights — it’s a statement of intent on social justice, on fairness, on support for working people.

This is our plan for a more aspirational future for Britain. When I speak to business leaders, they aren’t calling on us to soften our proposals or rip up workers’ rights. They don’t buy into a Tory trickle-down fantasy. While we’re obviously not going to agree on everything, they tell me clearly that a healthy and motivated workforce is good for the bottom line. They want fair taxes, a functioning skills system and the long-term stability for investment. We can work with that, and we will work with that.

As Keir Starmer has made clear, Labour will level-up workers’ rights in a way that has not been attempted for decades. And that might not please everyone. But our labour market is a clear reason why the wealth we create fails to generate economic security. This is about more than doing what is right, this is about growth.

Labour’s mission to achieve the fastest sustained economic growth in the G7 is no small order and we can’t reach that goal without solving our productivity crisis.

This also means attracting more private investment, making the UK a place where the next generation of entrepreneurs can succeed. This means creating a publicly owned energy company to deliver real energy security, as well as cheap, clean power. We will introduce legislation to tackle late payments to small business and replace business rates with a fairer system. Labour will set up a new industrial strategy council, a permanent part of the landscape to advise and hold us to account.

Our country is crying out for decisive leadership and Labour will provide it. The choice for Britain is between a Tory party that has lost control of itself and of the economy and a Labour government that delivers fair pay, good work and prosperity for all.

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