06 June 2007
Labour's deputy leadership candidates disagree on key trade union issues
The candidates for the Labour Party?s deputy leadership have revealed strong differences of opinion on issues at the top of the trade union agenda, in an election whose result will depend heavily on trade unionists? votes.
In this month?s Labour Research magazine, the six candidates show themselves generally to be in broad agreement on improving work/life balance, giving recognised unions the right to negotiate on pensions as well as pay, and making equality issues as prominent as health and safety issues at work. But in other areas they are more divided.
Labour Research editor Nathalie Towner said: “The range of responses shows that voters are being presented with a real choice. Union members will be considering these answers carefully when deciding who should get their vote.”
Private contractors in the public sector
Jon Cruddas wants the private sector?s involvement in the NHS to be limited: “There is not enough evidence that private finance initiatives, for example, deliver real service improvement or value for money.” Opposing the use of private contractors “as a cheap way to outsource responsibility and cut the terms and conditions of staff”, he says the government “has been seen to be too often actively promoting private sector involvement as an end in itself”.
Hilary Benn agrees with Cruddas?s last statement and adds that, across all public services, “sometimes Whitehall has tended to dictate how things should be reorganised without listening enough to the ideas of people on the front line”.
For Peter Hain, private sector involvement in the public sector is acceptable “where necessary to help clear backlogs and where public sector capacity is insufficient”, but he opposes the contracting out of caterers and cleaners: “There is no reason why cutting costs should be at the expense of good employment rights or standards of cleanliness.”
Hazel Blears says there should be “no ideological barrierr” to going outside the public sector if this improves services. Similarly, Harriet Harman has “no problem about private facilities used in the health service to reduce waiting lists for operations”, as long as this is not “at the expense of public provision of health services to the community”. However, Harman is critical of the “two-tier” labour market that has been created through contracting out.
Alan Johnson, meanwhile, comments that “the last 10 years have taught me a lot about the role that private contractors can and can?t play... private sector innovation and competition can be hugely beneficial, but the social conscience of the public sector should be preserved too”.
Secondary strike action
Hain, Harman and Cruddas are all critical of what happened during the Gate Gourmet dispute in 2005, when workers employed by British Airways were barred from taking legal strike action in support of their colleagues at BA?s catering contractor.
Hain says:“It is of course right that where employment rights are breached trade unions have the power to take collective action against unscrupulous, discriminatory employers.”
“Where there is a clear link between two groups of workers of that kind, it should not be against the law [to take solidarity action],” says Harman.
And Cruddas adds: “The UK framework of employment rights is not suitable for the modern economy where there is so much outsourcing and contracting.”
However, Benn, Blears and Johnson all oppose the reintroduction of giving workers the right to take secondary strike action, with Johnson stating that it would be“a regressive step”.
While none of the candidates supports an upper limit on company directors? pay, Harman wants the new Labour leadership to tackle inequalities: “It is simply wrong that those who fail still see big rewards,”she says.
Cruddas wants to see greater transparency and accountability in directors? pay, while Benn call for more self-restraint by the directors themselves. Hain explicitly states that “you can?t tackle this [problem] by the traditional route of very high taxation or regulation”, but calls for “the best paid executives [to] give a proportion of their money to charitable causes”. Blears holds a similar view, while Johnson believes that supporting people in need has been more important than tackling “spiralling salaries in Britain?s boardrooms” over the past decade.
Notes for editors
Download: Labour's deputy leadership candidates' views (pdf file, 72KB)