Underpaid workers suffer indignity while Boris Johnson debases office - Andy McDonald MP

BORIS Johnson has utterly debased the “dignity” of the office of Prime Minister by his self-seeking, entitled and disgraceful conduct in office.

Among Johnson’s detractors and supporters alike, there are surely scarcely any who can genuinely believe that the Tory leader has cut a dignified statesman-like figure during his tenure of nearly three miserable years in Downing Street.

Johnson’s catalogue of misrule is grimly familiar, whether it’s his breaking of the Covid laws he introduced, the cruel plan to forcibly deport vulnerable refugees to Rwanda, or a

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criminal failure to protect hard- pressed families hit by the cost-of-living crisis that the Tories ushered in.

Boris Johnson.Boris Johnson.
Boris Johnson.

Then there’s the glaringly epic and deliberate failure by the Tory government to promote the principle of the “dignity of work”.

It’s a principle that must be the cornerstone of a civilised society, in which all workers receive a wage that they can live on, as part of the traditional social contract of a “fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”. That contract has been torn to shreds during the 12 years of Tory-led government, with “in- work” poverty endemic across the UK. More than six months ago, Johnson used his speech to the Tory party conference to say he was shifting shift Britain towards a “high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy”. The obvious question, is so who does he consider to be low-skilled, and who does he have in mind?

Surely everyone – no matter what Johnson thinks of them – is entitled to a wage they can live on. The absence of a “real” living wage is palpable during this deep cost-of-living crisis, with the current national minimum wage of £9.50 for over-23s, and much less for younger employees, a ridiculously inadequate rate to help workers afford the very basics like food, rent and clothing.

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Strikingly, the Food Foundation think tank reported, just a day before Boris Johnson’s vacuous Queen’s speech last week that more than two million adults have gone without food for a whole day over the past month because they cannot afford to eat,

At the 2019 general election, I stood on a pledge of ending in-work poverty in the first five years of a Labour government, by increasing the real living wage, extending free public services and expanding trade union and workplace rights. The campaign for a £15-per-hour living wage, is critical to ending in-work poverty’ lifestyles, and restoring the “dignity of work”.

But Boris Johnson’s Tory government has yet again made it abundantly clear that it has no intention whatsoever of pursuing such an agenda, which is critical to getting to grips with the cost-of-living crisis. Yet again, the Government has shelved its plan to bring forward an Employment Bill, despite promising 20 times to do so. The net result of this delay is that working people face yet more exploitation, through the use of zero-hour contracts and bogus self-employment, among many other abhorrent practices used by rogue employers.

We are even looking at the prospect of workers’ rights being diminished further, with protections such as limits on working time being removed in the so-called “Brexit Freedoms Bill”.

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Adding insult to injury, it even emerged this month that ministers had abandoned plans to outlaw Scrooge-like employers from withholding part of the tips that customers had given to restaurant and bar staff.

That speaks in loud volumes about the attitude of Boris Johnson and the Tories to employment rights and fair workplace practices. We need a “New Deal” for British employees to restore that dignity of work.

A £15-per-hour living wage for all, as well as greater entitlement to sick pay, protection against zero-hour contracts, the unjust brutality of fire and rehire, and the right to strike in defence of decent pay and workplace conditions. Let us not forget, those workers forced to endure in-work poverty who represent Britain’s Covid heroes; the nurses who risked their lives on Covid- ravaged hospital wards at the height of the pandemic; care workers looking after our most vulnerable citizens in nursing homes; and the ambulance staff who ferried the most gravely sick people to get the treatment they needed. They are the ones who suffer from the absence of a £15-per-hour living wage, leaving them unable to keep up with the cost of living.

But they have been betrayed by this Tory government. Just as Boris Johnson has trampled over the dignity of the office of Prime Minister, his government tramples over the principle and practice of dignity at work. This must end, with a New Deal for employees. It’s time to restore dignity at work.

- Andy McDonald MP is Labour MP for Middlesbrough and former Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights and Protections.