The TUC has called for the government to form a National Recovery Council to help the economy heal from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a report published today, entitled A Better Recovery, the trade unions’ body has called for the government to ramp up social investment rather than introduce austerity measures, including an increase in the national minimum wage to £10 an hour, a public sector pay rise, a ban on zero hours contracts and a job guarantee scheme.
Work life after coronavirus
It argues that global systems for trade and finance damage the populations of poorer countries and drive unfair pay, and that more needs to be done to tackle discrimination against black and ethnic minority people, women and disabled people.
The focus for recovery should be on six key areas, the TUC says:
- Decent work and a new way of doing business: new business models based on “fairer employment relationships”
- Sustainable industry: building new skills to invest in technology and rebuild the UK’s industrial capacity in a sustainable way
- A real safety net: reforms to job security such as a job guarantee scheme so long-term unemployment does not take hold
- Rebuilding public services: including decent pay and a “new focus on good jobs and direct employment in social care”
- Equality at work: actions to ensure women, disabled people and BAME people do not suffer disproportionately as a result of the coronavirus
- Rebuilding internationalism: New global rules should prioritise “decent jobs” and public services.
The TUC praises how the government reacted quickly to set up the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the swift set-up of mutual support groups and remote working. All of this, the report says, “show the speed and scale of what can be done when it is necessary”, and that this same urgency should be applied to tackling climate change.
The report adds that there should be an ‘Olympic-style’ plan when it comes to industry bailouts and state investment in the coming months, proposing a minimum requirement for the use of UK products and services to rebuild manufacturing.
The National Recovery Council would be made up of representatives from government, unions and employers, with regional and devolved nation recovery panels also feeding into the planning and delivery of recovery strategies.
The state should also consider a “funded individual learning account” for jobless people to learn new skills, ideally with the promise of a job at the end of training.
General-secretary of the TUC Frances O’Grady said the crisis had shown “who kept Britain going through this and the true value of labour”.
“It feels like we have had our priorities all wrong,” she said. “No-one is coming out to clap hedge fund managers on Thursdays.”
The report argues that the coronavirus has revealed “significant weaknesses in the way that work is organised and rewarded in the UK”.
As well as increasing the minimum wage, the government can address this through boosting collective bargaining, adopting new business models that deliver greater employee voice, and giving workers “a voice at the heart of government” through the National Recovery Council.
The TUC also urges the government to reform universal credit so it is open to more people and offers support immediately, to maintain the state pension triple lock and to put planned state pension age increases on hold.
It calls for the government to phase out the lower age threshold so that workers aged 18 and above can access a workplace pension (employers currently do not have to put workers under 22 or earning less than £10,000 into a workplace pension), and to increase the minimum employer contribution from the current 3%.
In terms of protections for “insecure workers”, such as those on zero-hours contracts, it calls for “a decent floor of rights” and the return of protection against unfair dismissal, rules on compensation where shifts are cancelled, a “statutory presumption that people are employed” and penalties for misleading workers on their employment status.
O’Grady said “good jobs” would be at the heart of the recovery, and asked employers, policy-makers and government to “channel the spirit of 1945”.
“Seventy-five years ago, Britain was bloodied, battered – and broke,” she said. “Yet after the war Britain’s economy grew faster than ever before. We did it not by pay freezes and cuts, but by making the priority decent jobs for everyone, new homes, infrastructure and a new national health service.
“Coronavirus doesn’t have to equal mass unemployment and a poorer, meaner country. We can do what the post-war generation did: grow our way out of this crisis and build a better life for everyone.”