31/12/2017 - New Year message from our general secretary

patharringtonatprotestIn my last New Year message, I predicted that:

"Some may not want to hear this but the consequences of Brexit are likely to dominate debates about workplace rights and trade this year. There is likely to be a disjuncture between the promises of the Leave campaign's pre-referendum promises of Utopia and the real world of trade negotiations, global politics and economics. We simply don't know what Brexit will mean in terms of timescales, trade deals, employee rights and legislation. There is a huge degree of uncertainty."

That has proved to be correct.

Although our Union supported Brexit we were always concerned that the rights of British workers and Trade Unions might come under attack during the transition and withdrawal from the European Union. There have always been those in the Tory Party who are hostile to both Union rights and the safeguards and protections won over many years for ordinary British workers.

Let’s look at a few of the times that the mask slipped with the anti-Union and anti-worker Tories:

January 2017

This hostility was evident as early as January when a bill by Tory MP Chris Philp proposed that transport unions should have to get permission from a judge before they could strike. It was backed by 50 of his colleagues.

February 2017

Despite reporting a 68% fall in cases between 2013 and 2015, the government  insisted that workers were not "prevented" from accessing justice because of Employment Tribunal fees, they were only "discouraged"!


In June Tory MP Guy Opperman, Pensions Minister, said he understood what it was like to be on a Zero-Hour Contract because he once worked as a £250 per hour barrister!


The public sector pay cap, which has seen wages decline in real terms for millions of workers, was not really austerity, former Tory Chancellor Lord Norman Lamont said in July.

The peer said he felt the cap should continue and that the policy was simply "living within one's means".

At the end of July our brothers and sisters in Unison scored a great victory for us all.

Just months after a Tory report into the impact of tribunal fees called them a "success", the harmful charges were ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court.


The mask slipped again in August when Tory Peer Lord Harris told BBC Radio 4 that one benefit of Brexit would be the removal of the Working Time Directive.

The Working Time Regulations govern the hours most workers can work and set limits on an average working week. It als givse statutory entitlement to paid leave for most workers. The comments came after the Tories made a vow not to cut workers' rights!


In September the government refused to commit to a public inquiry into blacklisting despite further evidence that the illegal practice continues in the construction industry.


In October Tory MP Charlie Elphicke told a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference that fears around low pay were just "union propaganda".


A report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies in November revealed that seven years of Tory austerity had not accomplished its aim of reducing public spending.

The backdrop to these legislative and policy attacks on our rights is an economic environment hostile to organising union strength. Britain today has upwards of 1.4 million out of work, 1.6 million working for agencies, 1.6 million on “precarious” temporary and zero-hours contracts and as many as five million working self-employed, many on low pay. Trade union membership fell over the last year by 275,000.

There is no doubt that 2018 will be challenging for workers and Unions. Yet 2017 showed that Unions could score legal victories to uphold our rights.

There were also encouraging signs of militancy and resistance in the gig economy with workers fighting at Deliveroo and Uber, for example.

For our part, in Solidarity, we represented many workers who were without Union cover and fought tooth and nail against any attempts to unfairly discipline or discriminate against our members.

We look back at a 2017 which saw our Union save the jobs of many workers and win settlements for others. We look forward to continuing to promote and protect the rights of our members and all British workers against all comers.

Together we are strong!

Patrick Harrington

General Secretary