Angela Rayner has said the Labour party must invoke the spirit of 1945 and “harness the values that saved a nation” post-pandemic, pledging a slew of new rules that would enhance workers’ rights.
In her speech, Rayner revealed she had caught Covid on the day she was declared deputy leader 18 months ago – and that she had lost members of her own family to the virus.
“I wanted to stand up and speak out, but I could barely stand and I could barely speak,” she said. “Like so many, I’d caught coronavirus. I know too well that I am lucky to have lived through it when others, including members of my own family, did not.”
In the green paper announced by the Labour deputy leader at the opening of Labour conference, Rayner pledged:
Legislation to ensure workers have full employment rights from day one, including sick pay, holiday pay and parental leave.
A single definition of worker, banning “bogus” self-employment.
An end to zero-hours contract and fire-and-rehire practices.
Full rights to flexible working as a default, with time for caring responsibilities.
Government-backed negotiations between unions and employers across an entire sector to set minimum pay rates and basic conditions.
Rayner said she would overhaul government procurement to end cronyism, referencing Matt Hancock’s Covid testing kit deal with his former local pub landlord.
“We’ll stop the dodgy deals handing public money to ministers’ mates. It’s bad news for my pub landlord … but good news for the public,” she said.
“I won’t sign off a single penny that goes to a company that exploits its workers or doesn’t pay its taxes. We will stamp out the Tory sleaze that has polluted our politics and corrupted our democracy. The racket is over. Their time is up.”
Rayner said the proposals would be life-changing for those who had been at the sharp end of the pandemic, referencing her own history as a care worker.
“This green paper is for every parent tearing your hair out about childcare, or who missed a sports day or parents evening because you couldn’t come in early and leave early,” she said.
“It’s for every young person who daren’t turn down a shift on a zero-hours contract because you might not get hours next week, who can’t take a break and can’t get sick. And it’s for every worker who went to work and never made it home, and for their families who will never see them again.”
Rayner said that creating a single status for worker would mean people could be either employed or genuinely self-employed – “ending the absurd situation in which you could wear a uniform, work regular hours solely for one business and yet be considered by the law to be self-employed”.
Calling out British Airways and British Gas, which have faced criticism for fire-and-rehire practices, Rayner said Labour would take tougher action against bosses who broke the rules.
“When I am deputy prime minister, it won’t just be my words they face but the full force of law. Never under a Labour government will bad employers hold all the cards in a stacked deck. That applies to work-life balance too,” she said.
Rayner said that the unprecedented tolls of the pandemic had shown the values of flexible working. “A global pandemic has reinforced for a lot of us how precious time off is, and how utterly exhausting the daily grind can be,” she said.
“So Labour will introduce a new right to flexible working as the default, protections for those with caring responsibilities and a right to switch off too.
“We will learn the lessons of this pandemic. increasing statutory sick pay and making it universal, so that everyone can afford to live while they are off sick or self-isolating. That’s not only fair for working people – but vital for all of our health.”
Rayner said the new laws would be introduced within the first 100 days of coming to office. “We will sign into law our new deal for working people. These policies will transform our country and the lives of its people,” she said.
Rayner said Labour should aim to match the 1945 manifesto – Let Us Face the Future – saying that was the task for the party to convince the public this week.
“In 1945, the country faced a choice between a Tory government who sought the credit for our shared achievement but longed for the status quo that preceded it, where the state would step back and the market would rule again, where people knew their place and took what they were given,” she said.
“Or a Labour government that would harness the values that saved a nation, and make a country fit for those who had fought for it. Our country chose to face that future.”
After a difficult few days of internal rows where allies of Rayner let it be known she had opposed proposals from the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, the deputy leader sought to draw a line under the dispute, paying tribute to his “lifetime of public service”.