114 year Workers’ Rights Scrapped by Coalition Government.
So, it’s official – workers today have less entitlement to be safe at work than those in Victorian Times. That the Government supports those who work and strive to support families is a nonsense. Consistently, we witness the Coalition continuously and callously attack ordinary working people. David Cameron rejoices at a return to the Victorian “Golden Age”. (1)
I recall a death certificate which I acquired from genealogical research. Metal polishing in Birmingham’s jewellery quarter in Victorian Times meant working with toxic metals, and one woman met her death when her crinoline became trapped in a lathe. These workers lived in poverty in insanitary back-to-back-housing, in poor health due to poor diet. Elsewhere, children were working in cotton mills and on the land, with little or no education and with dangerous machinery. I had imagined this was history – not the future.
The Institute for Employment Rights reports:
Last week, on the 25th April 2013, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill was granted royal assent, bringing into law the government’s widely unpopular proposals to scrap employers’ 114-year-old liability for their staff’s health and safety in the workplace.
This means that the burden of proof now falls on the employee to show that the employer had been negligent in their duties towards them, rather than the employer being asked to prove they were following regulations correctly, as has been the case since the Victorian era. This is likely to result in injured workers, and the families of the deceased, being unable to claim compensation for their losses due to accidents at the workplace, seeing as the evidence needed to prove negligence is held by the employer rather than the employee – and employers guilty of negligence are unlikely to willingly hand over the proof. (2)
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill ERRB was amended at the very last minute by the government, by insertion of 61 clause which will mean that a worker can be injured due to an employer’s breach of a statutory duty within health and safety at work regulations but the worker will be prevented from enforcing that breach.
At present a civil claim for personal injury can be brought for negligence and/or breach of statutory duty. A breach of statutory duty would occur, for instance, if an employer failed to comply with regulations under the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA), such as failure to guard a machine or keep a gangway clear of obstructions. (3)
Employers will no longer be liable in the civil courts for the criminal offence of a breach of the HSWA regulations. In every case, rather than be able to rely on the breach of the regulations, the worker will have to prove the employer was negligent.
With the removal of legal aid, non unionised workers would be unable to challenge. Workers vulnerability to exploitative employers has been set back more than a century. Rights achieved by solidarity of working people by the Labour Movement have been ripped away. Labour opposed the ERRB Bill and must ensure a reversal when returned to government.
The ERRB motion was passed before some voters went to the polls in Local Elections last week , and without mention on the BBC and little in mainstream news.
On 16th April the government abolished the Agricultural Workers Wages Board, (AWWB) without even a debate (4) in the Commons. This will result in poverty and could lead to exploitation of children.
Next – the minimum wage is to be targeted. Introduced by the Labour Party, this lifted many from abject poverty. The Telegraph (5) reports that the minimum wage is at risk, and it could be frozen, or cut. This will put millions at risk of poverty. We are living in a divided society, where women and children are being hit hardest. People are going into debt to eat and we are seeing a resurgence of scurvy. How can this be even contemplated?
Labour List on Minimum Wage Cut
Before it was introduced millions were working for terrifyingly small salaries as low as £1 an hour. The minimum wage made work pay and released millions from the most abject poverty. Despite the scare-mongering from the right, it didn’t cost jobs. It set a legal floor below which we as a society said we would not allow – or force – people to go. (6)
We are seeing so many of Labour’s achievements in government being rolled back, the NHS, welfare state, free school meals and improved access to education. Add to that Legal Aid, the Open University, and women’s rights. In recent years, Surestart and the Minimum Wage. Equality for Women is threatened as the Government attacks Maternity Rights, and ChildCare Support. The Tories say they want “work to pay” … but it’s certainly not the workers who will benefit, it’s employers and big business.
The Conservative Party have not won a General Election in 21 years , yet the Liberal Democrats continue to keep this extreme, reactionary government in power, allowing total destruction of the Welfare State, stripping assets built and earned by working people and actively pursue policies which erode Workers’ Rights. Will Liberal Democrats look to their consciences and walk?
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
- Guardian: Conservative Nostalgia for Victorian Times is Dangerous
- Employment Rights: Victorian Era Workers’ Rights Scrapped By Coalition:
- RMT -Transport Union: Return of the Dark Satanic Mills: The End of Civil Liability in Health and Safety
- MPs abolish Farm Wages Board Farmers Weekly
- Telegraph: Minimum Wage could be Frozen or Cut, Government Suggests
- Labour List: They’re coming after the Minimum Wage – Get Angry!
- Maternity Action : Policy and Research
- Think Left: Remember the Real Divide – it is Rich and Poor
- GMB: Government taking Workforce back to Victorian Times
- Morning Star: UKIP MEP blasted after Maternity Rights Rant
- Guardian: One is Seven Women made Redundant after Maternity Leave
- BBC: Many are borrowing for food