Sir Keir Starmer will today offer Boris Johnson cross-party support for a “genuine national plan” to protect millions of jobs as the UK faces a possible resurgence of the coronavirus crisis.
Speaking to the TUC, the Labour leader will repeat the party’s demand for a targeted extension of the government’s job retention scheme to allow workers in sectors hit particularly hard by lockdown to remain on furlough.
And he will call for a ban on “firing and rehiring” practices which have seen some employees made redundant and then taken back on worse pay and conditions.
Starmer will accuse the prime minister of “failing to get the basics right” on testing and protection of care homes over the summer.
And he will say that the current row over plans to override elements of the EU withdrawal agreement is an attempt by Johnson to “reopen old wounds over Brexit” to distract from his failings in the Covid-19 crisis.
Addressing the PM directly he will say: “Get your priorities right. Get on with defeating this virus.”
But despite his criticisms, the Labour leader will say that the government, opposition, trade unions and business should now come together to avoid the “scarring effect mass unemployment will have on communities and families across the country”.
“At this moment of national crisis we should take inspiration from our past,” the Labour leader will say.
“Be willing to put party differences aside and work together in the interest of the country. Imagine how powerful it would be if we could form a genuine national plan to protect jobs, create new ones and invest in skills and training.
“I’m making an open offer to the prime minister: work with us to keep millions of people in work. Work with the trade unions and work with businesses. Do everything possible to protect jobs and to deliver for working people.”
Although his pre-briefed comments appeared to allude to the Second World War government which brought together members of Winston Churchill’s Conservatives and Clement Attlee’s Labour in the national effort, party sources insisted Starmer was not referring to any specific moment in Britain’s history.
Labour has warned that chancellor Rishi Sunak’s “one-size-fits-all” plan to halt the furlough scheme across the economy on 1 November risks a giant wave of job losses in the weeks before Christmas.
Sir Keir will acknowledge that the scheme - under which the state paid more than 9 million workers up to 80 per cent of monthly pay at the height of the pandemic - cannot continue forever in its original form.
But he will say that “with a bit of imagination and acting in the national interest, a better approach is possible” that the blanket withdrawal of help at the end of October.
Drawing on schemes introduced or proposed elsewhere in the world, the Labour leader will suggest:
- The expansion of part-time working and rewards for employers who offer hours rather than cutting jobs.
- Training and support for those who cannot come back full-time.
- Targeting help at sectors most in need, such as retail, aviation and those hit by local lockdowns.
Addressing the TUC by video-link from his home after being forced to self-isolate because a family member showed symptoms of possible coronavirus, Starmer will also condemn “fire and re-hire” practices as “not just wrong but against British values.”
Calling for them to be outlawing, he will say: “These tactics punish good employers, hit working people hard and harm our economy.
“After a decade of pay restraint, that’s the last thing working people need. And in the middle of a deep recession, it’s the last thing our economy needs.”
Starmer will give credit to the trade union movement for prompting the chancellor to introduce the job retention scheme.
“When it came to protecting millions of jobs and keeping people safe at work it was the union movement that stood up,” he will tell the conference.
“Without you there would have been no furlough scheme. No life raft for seven million people. The trade unions have always been the unsung heroes of our national story - and through this crisis you have helped to write another proud chapter.”