Next Friday we reach the crunch date in Parliament on the Agency Workers Bill. For years New Labour has blocked every attempt so far through European legislation and in the UK Parliament to introduce legislation to give agency workers the same protections in law as other workers. This has meant not only that agency workers have become the victims of often grotesque exploitation but also that they have been used by ruthless employers to undercut the wages and conditions of other workers.
Last year Government ministers blocked my Trade Union Freedom Bill which would have given all workers basic trade union rights. This week the Government is attempting to undermine the Agency Workers Bill which is scheduled for debate as a private members bill on Friday. This time the Government is trying to prevent a vote on the Bill by offering a sop of a deal it has cooked up with the employers' CBI, proposing to set up a commission of inquiry "to review the rights of temporary and agency workers."
This is a typical New Labour grubby tactic aimed at stalling, preventing or at the last ditch watering down the effectiveness of any legislation. We have had years to study the rights of agency and temporary workers and years of exposing the exploitation they face.
In the Labour anad Trade Union movement we have been waiting over a decade for the Government to introduce basic trade union rights for these vulnerable workers who are mostly women and migrant workers. Addressing this issue was a core commitment in the famous Warwick agreement between the unions and New Labour.
To renege on this commitment once again will call into question in the minds of many trade unionists why their trade union remains affiliated to New Labour. For many Labour Party members the creation of the alliance between the New Labour leadership of Gordon Brown and unscrupulous employers to undermine this legislation begs the question why Brown and his followers are in the Labour Party. If they want to serve as the electoral voice of big business they should have the honesty to leave Labour and set up their own pro business party.
The debate over the Agency Workers Bill has become critical not only to the future of these vulnerable workers but also potentially is becoming a critically important test for the future of trade unions within New Labour and for the future of the Labour Party itself.