Thursday, 17 February 2011

Time to resist onslaught on worker's rights

The latest attempt by the Coalition Government to get everyone else to pay for the deficit caused by the bankers seems to be manifesting itself in an attack on the working conditions of ordinary working people.It would seem, the cutting of the jobs, wages and pensions of those working in the public sector, is but the start. Other moves intended to make life easier for capital include changing rules for employment tribunals so that employees have to have been employed for two years not the present one before they have right of recourse. They will also have to come up with a fee. This is intended to dissuade people from going to tribunal, the potential wrong doing of an employer is apparently to be protected because it will make him or her more profitable.Then there is talk of cutting health and safety laws. Whilst the tabloid press regularly drag out the most ludicrous example of health and safety practices that it can find in order to attack the whole concept of safety at work, there are people dying due to employer negligence. An average of 220 people have died each year at work for the past five years. This figure though was down to 152 for 2009/10 no doubt due to a stronger safety culture. The industries with the worst records are construction (42 in 2009/10), services (41) and agriculture (38). Health and Safety laws are there to protect people's lives in many cases, not some fluffy soft option to make employers lives more difficult.The idea of relaxing these rules is negligent in the extreme. Indeed the whole attitude of the Coalition Government to regulation is reckless. This was recently epitomised by Environment minister Chris Huhne declaring that no new regulations will be brought in without an old regulation going out. How ludicrous? Regulation ofcourse is something else that makes life more difficult for capital. Again, regulations come in for a reason, namely because there has been some abuse going on. And if anyone needs an example of what happens when an industry is not regulated properly, look no further than banking. It was so called ‘light touch’ regulation that enabled the banking crisis to happen.Then there is talk of strengthening laws to make taking strike action more difficult, a flashback here to the early Thatcherite days of the 1980s when the law was used as a means to outlaw much industrial action.In Ireland, they have cut the level of the minimum wage to help business become more competitive. Surely it can only be a matter of time before such a move comes to this country.
A major change in favour of employers has been the switching in April of the indexation of increases in benefits, tax credits and public service pensions from the Retail Price Index (RPI) to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI will always be lower as it does not include elements like morgage interest payments and council tax. This will cost workers dearly while presenting billions in savings for companies. This will be especially true in the area of pensions.
What all of these moves betray is the latest restructuring of the capitalist system in favour of the employer and against the worker. In specific terms it proves that despite the banking crisis the fundamentalist neo-liberal market system continues to dominate.
The banking crisis may have brought the whole system to the brink of collapse in the autumn of 2008 but never mind that is all a long time ago now. The taxpayer has bailed out the banks, the bankers continue drawing huge bonuses whilst everyone else pays for the consequences. Basically the wheels have been put back on the busted neo-liberal market wagon, so that it can trundle on to the next great crisis destroying more lives along the way. Given that governments still seem unaware of just how much debt the banks are still hiding and that many of these debts appear larger than the countries where they reside, the next crisis maybe a lot closer than many realise.
It is time for working people to say enough is enough and demand justice in the workplace. The TUC is organising opposition with the big march in London on 26 March. Other community groups have raised some protest but with this onslaught on the lives of working people continuing unabated by this government needs to be resisted. It is time those who caused the crisis started paying a lot more of the cost for its resolution. If we are all in this together, then surely capital has to take accepting some of the pain, instead of offsetting it against those who create the wealth. The common good demands no less.

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