LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May promised on Monday to extend British workers’ rights in the workplace and the boardroom, part of a push to win over traditional working class supporters of the opposition Labour Party in next month’s election.
May, appointed prime minister after Britain voted to leave the European Union last June, wants to seal a decisive victory for her Conservative Party in the June 8 election to strengthen her hand in the Brexit talks, but opposition parties said her latest bid was part of a campaign to “fool” working people.
On a visit to southern England, May committed to keeping EU guarantees on workers’ rights, getting workers represented on company boards and protecting pensions from “irresponsible behaviour by company bosses” - a clear reference to billionaire Philip Green who oversaw the demise of department store BHS.
May also outlined plans to tackle pay gaps between different races and ages, introducing a demand for employers to be transparent to correct “an injustice which cannot be allowed in 21st century Britain”.
“Our plans ... will be the greatest expansion in workers’ rights by any Conservative government in history,” May said.
“There is only one leader at this election who will put rights and opportunities for ordinary working families first.”
Labour accused May of making “ridiculous claims”.
“Theresa May is taking working people for fools,” said Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s campaigns and elections chairman.
“The Tories (the Conservatives) have spent the last seven years prioritising the few, opposing Labour’s proposals to give workers more rights and overseeing wage stagnation which has left people worse off,” Gwynne said.
The finance spokesman of the centrist Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, said he had experience of the Conservatives trying to ban workers from striking when he was part of the 2010-2015 coalition government and urged voters not to trust them.
May’s governing Conservative Party has a clear lead in the opinion polls, but her aides say she does not want to become the latest victim of misleading predictions after pollsters wrongly forecast last year that Britain would vote to stay in the EU.
Using one of her campaign catchphrases, she again took aim at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, saying his “nonsensical policies would trash the economy and destroy jobs”.
Listing 11 commitments, May said she would increase the “national living wage” in line with median earnings, give new protections to “gig” economy workers and offer a new statutory right for workers to receive information about major decisions in companies, in keeping with the rights of shareholders.
She would also include new rights for those who have to leave work to care for family members, or experience the death of a child, those who want to train and protections for those suffering mental health problems. But on a Facebook live session later on Monday, the policy was criticised for being unpaid.
“I said I would use Brexit to extend the protections and rights that workers enjoy, and our manifesto will deliver exactly that,” she said.
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Gareth Jones