It’s the rights time

201 years ago the House of Commons saw a mighty victory for social justice, fairness and equality. After a long and determined campaign, the slave trade was abolished.

On Friday, the campaign to abolish poverty pay and grant equality for all workers comes to the same house with the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill.

Whilst it might not be as emotive a subject, this Private Members bill would give our 1.4 million agency workers the same rights and pro-rata pay as full-time workers.

That means the same rights to holidays, decent working hours and sick pay.

It’s a win-win for workers – agency workers will see their pay and conditions go on a par with those who work full time and permanent workers will be in a stronger position by abolishing the race to the gutter through a two tier workforce.

The CBI claims Britain will be less competitive and 250,000 are at stake. Big business said the same about the minimum wage but it in fact corrected underpayment by employers and created jobs. While costs rose, employers had no incentive to cut jobs.

As ex-CBI Director General Adair Turner found when he reviewed the minimum wage he in 2003 as Chair of the Low Pay Commission: “The national minimum wage has brought benefits to over one million low-paid workers. It has done so without any significant adverse impact on business or employment.”

I’m sure the Government will find a way to address this issue – there’s already talk of an inquiry into the treatment of temporary and agency workers, which is a positive step forward. But I hope that this Friday MPs send a strong message by backing the bill and helping it progress to its second reading to keep this issue in the spotlight.

It took Wilberforce 20 years to see his dream come true.

Let’s hope that the 1.4 million workers with poor holiday entitlement, sick pay and sub-standard wages won’t have to wait that long.

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