Theresa May, U.K. prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, speaks with residents as she canvasses a street in Southampton U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

May Pledges Protections for U.K. Gig Economy Workers, Pensions

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May on Monday will pledge to broaden employment rights in Britain as the country pulls out of the European Union, outlining a raft of promises designed to safeguard pensions, gig economy workers with companies such as Uber Technologies Inc., and wages.

The prime minister will say that if her Conservative Party wins the June 8 general election, she’ll follow up on recommendations made in a review into U.K. working practices she commissioned in 2016 by Matthew Taylor, former policy chief of Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. She’ll also promise to increase the national living wage in line with median earnings for the next five years, and ensure representation for employees on company boards.

The plans “will be the greatest expansion in workers’ rights by any Conservative government in history,” May will say, according to remarks emailed by her party. “I said I would use Brexit to extend the protections and rights that workers enjoy, and our manifesto will deliver exactly that.”

May is reaching into policy areas that are traditional strengths of her Labour Party opponents as she seeks to strengthen the Tory grip on Parliament beyond its current slim majority in the House of Commons. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, for his part, will stick to his party’s strongest suit with the electorate on Monday by pledging to inject 37 billion pounds ($48 billion) into the National Health Service over the next 5 years.

‘Prioritizing the Few’

Responding to the proposals, Labour Campaigns and Elections Chairman Andrew Gwynne said May is “taking working people for fools.” “The Tories have spent the last seven years prioritizing the few, opposing Labour’s proposals to give workers more rights, and overseeing wage stagnation which has left people worse off,” he said.

The Tories are leading in the polls by a margin in the mid to high teens, suggesting May’s push to win over Labour voters is succeeding. Last week, in a visit to the northeast of England, a Labour stronghold, May said Corbyn had “deserted” ordinary workers, and pledged to win their trust herself. Her pledges on Monday will include:

  • All workers’ rights currently guaranteed by EU law will be preserved after Brexit
  • Gig economy workers will get unspecified new protections
  • Employees will have a statutory right to receive information about key decisions affecting their company’s future, though not exceeding the rights of shareholders
  • Employees will be given the right to request leave for training, to care for family members, and following the death of a child
  • Pensions will be protected from “irresponsible behavior by company bosses, like unsustainable dividends and takeovers that put the future of the pension scheme at risk”
  • Equality laws will be extended to protect those with mental health conditions from discrimination

May has made protecting ordinary working people a theme of her leadership, frequently criticizing irresponsible behavior by companies and pledging to help people who are “just about managing.” She’s also ordered reviews into working practices and corporate governance, but has yet to follow through with concrete measures.

One of the focuses of the Taylor review, which has yet to be published, was on how to protect workers in gig economy companies such as Uber and Pimlico Plumbers Ltd., whose status and rights entitlements were unclear. Taylor told Bloomberg earlier this year that he was sketching out a recommendation for workers to be given a “basic statement” of the terms of their employment and entitlements after a week or so of work to end any ambiguity.

National Health

The Labour promise on the NHS includes 10 billion pounds for buildings and IT systems, after 48 NHS organizations were affected on Friday by a global cyber-attack that left hospitals in London, North West England and Central England urging people with non-emergency conditions to stay away.

“Accident and emergency departments are struggling to cope, waiting lists are soaring, and, as we saw last week, Tory cuts have exposed patient services to cyber-attack,” Corbyn
will tell a conference of the Royal College of Nurses on Monday, according to his office. “Imagine what would happen to the NHS if the Conservatives under Theresa May were to have another five years in power. It would be unrecognizable.”

The Conservatives said in a statement that Corbyn’s “nonsensical” economic policies would leave less money in public coffers to spend on the NHS.