Labour Research May 2014


Europe, immigration and bashing workers’ rights

While its anti-immigration and anti-EU policies are well known, the UK Independence Party’s other policies, such as those on workers’ rights, are much less trumpeted. Labour Research examines them.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) gained 139 seats in the local elections in England last year, increasing its number of councillors to 147. And there has been considerable media speculation that it could win the most votes in the European elections on 22 May.

UKIP has successfully promoted itself as a party battling against a political elite and the tyranny of Brussels on behalf of ordinary, hard-working British people, with a cheery, no-nonsense bloke in Nigel Farage at its helm. Polls suggest that it is winning “the protest vote” against established parties that used to go to the Liberal Democrats.

Who votes UKIP?

UKIP’s rise in popularity poses the biggest threat to the Tories, according to recent polls.

A poll of 800 UKIP supporters by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft showed that almost half (45%) of UKIP’s current supporters voted for the Conservatives at the 2010 general election compared with 8% who voted Labour at the last election.

But it also found that UKIP is drawing support from other parties and from previous non-voters. Thirty-two per cent of UKIP voters did not vote at the last general election when turnout was around 65%.

UKIP has gained more support from the Liberal Democrats than Labour.

A recent review of polling undertaken by the TULO organisation representing Labour’s 15 affiliated trade unions, Understanding UKIP voters, says that this is “perhaps reflecting a shift in “the protest vote” against the established parties.

TULO found that other aggregated analysis of YouGov polls last year showed that an even higher 60% of 2,700 UKIP supporters voted Conservative in 2010.

But it says that UKIP supporters do not necessarily see themselves as right wing — 46% of UKIP supporters, compared with 60% of Conservatives, describe themselves as “right of centre”. And 36% describe themselves as centre or centre-left.

Drawing on a YouGov poll from October 2013 for the think tank Class, the newspaper columnist and activist Owen Jones found that:

• 83% of UKIP supporters think that the government should have the power to control gas and electricity prices (compared to 74% of all voters);

• 50% think that the government should be able to control private sector rents (compared to 45% of all voters);

• 73% think that railways should be run in the public sector (compared with 66% of all voters); and

• 78% of UKIP voters think that energy companies should be run in the public sector (compared to 68% of all voters).

And TULO points out that UKIP supporters are just as likely to be trade union members as any other members of the public (around 17%).

Writing on the centre-left LabourList blog, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, John Mann, reported that his detailed analysis of election results in his constituency, going back to 2003, showed that “trade unionists or those who should be in unions — working class, private sector employees — are the biggest UKIP threat to Labour by a significant degree”.

Mann added: “These are the people we lost to UKIP.”

But as Labour’s leader in the European Parliament and East Midlands MEP Glenis Willmott warns: “Nigel Farage isn’t just the normal bloke down the pub with his pint. He’s a former Tory public schoolboy. He was a trader in the City, one of the breed who got the country into the financial meltdown it is still recovering from, and a man who doesn’t believe the Conservative party are conservative enough.”

And in the run-up to the European elections, Labour-affiliated unions are urging any members tempted to vote for UKIP to carefully read the small print.

The truth about UKIP

While the Tory-led coalition government has relentlessly attacked workers’ rights and their pay and conditions, it seems that UKIP would go even further. The Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation (TULO), the campaigning arm of Labour’s 15 affiliated trade unions, has issued a leaflet, The truth about UKIP which warns that UKIP:

• thinks that job security is a luxury that should be paid for with lower wages. The party would also make it easier for employers to fire their staff at will;

• would cut Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) by more than half, to just £64 a week — the equivalent of fewer than 10 hours’ work at the minimum wage;

• would hand the whole of the National Health Service to private companies. From ambulances to hospital wards, services would be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The NHS would be nothing more than a logo;

• would introduce a flat rate of tax, raising taxes for the poorest tax-payers, while the rich would pay much less. UKIP would also scrap rules that prevent tax avoidance by big companies; and

• would scrap the legal right to four weeks’ paid holidays. It would also scrap other rights, like fixed working hours, statutory sick pay and redundancy pay.

TULO national officer Byron Taylor says that all these policies were contained in UKIP’s 2010 manifesto, but that this has now been taken down from the website and publicly disowned by Nigel Farage.

UKIP’s policy pages on small business (also taken down from the website) spelled out these policies in detail. It sets out that workers with a permanent job and paid annual leave should expect lower wages than temporary workers. It argues that “as a general rule, there is a price to be paid for better job security and holiday entitlement, and that is to accept lower wages or salary than offered to those on short-term contracts”.

Parental rights

The party also says: “It should be up to each employer to decide whether to offer parental leave. “UKIP would abolish SMP entirely and simply allow parents who stay at home with their children to claim a weekly parental allowance set at the same level as the Basic Cash Benefit proposed in our welfare policy (in other words, around £64 per week for parents aged 25 and above) regardless of how long they are off work and regardless of the other spouse’s income.”

A woman working full time on the National Minimum Wage currently gets around £200 a week in SMP.

UKIP continues: “The same principles would be applied to Statutory Sick Pay, Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Adoption Pay. The taxpayer would pay for a basic level of £64 a week, but this would be dealt with as part of the welfare system with no need for employer involvement.”

Working hours and holidays

The Working Time Regulations, which limit the length of time workers have to work and provide a guaranteed right to four weeks’ paid annual leave, are among the top five “most damaging or costly regulations” according to UKIP.

It sees little or no need for regulations providing limits on working hours and for rights to holiday pay. Instead it says: “Working hours should be agreed between employers and employees; wages and salaries will tend to adjust to provide adequate compensation.” It would “put an end to most legislation” concerning weekly working hours, holidays, overtime, redundancy and sick pay.

Apprentice pay

And apprentices also would be worse off if UKIP’s policies were implemented. It does not agree that they should have a minimum wage “because the employer has to take into account the fact that the apprentice will take days off to attend college, and also budget for the fact that simply completing an apprenticeship has a significant value, so once qualified, an apprentice can demand a correspondingly higher salary”.

It describes the introduction of a reduced rate of £2.50 an hour for apprentices in their first year of training in October 2010 as “far too little too late”.

Equality and diversity

Bearing in mind recent comments by Henley-on-Thames town councillor David Silvester, who was expelled from UKIP after blaming the recent floods on the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 earlier this year, it is perhaps not surprising that the party would scrap most “equality and diversity” legislation.

It would also put a cap on compensation in discrimination cases and in those where workers are sacked for taking action on health and safety. And it wants to see only “occasional site inspections”, and fines and closures for unsafe workplaces limited to “cases that can be considered criminal”.

Health and safety

In the European Parliament, UKIP MEPs have consistently voted against measures to improve health and safety. For example, while asbestos is the single largest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, UKIP politicians continue to argue that white asbestos is “harmless”, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Its MEPs voted against a Labour-initiated European Parliament report calling for the removal of asbestos from all public buildings by 2028.

Its Eastern region MEP Stuart Agnew even took out ads in local papers claiming that European legislation “vilifies harmless white asbestos”.

Public sector jobs

And while UKIP says it wants to cut welfare benefits, its policies would put more British people out of work. An analysis of UKIP's 2010 manifesto by The Times newspaper showed that it contained “detailed plans” to cut two million public sector jobs.

Farage may have distanced himself from this manifesto, but the voting record of UKIP MEPs speaks for itself. In the European Parliament, UKIP MEPs have voted against firm action on bankers’ bonuses, against tough measures on tax evasion and against a youth guarantee scheme that would give young unemployed people a guarantee of work, education or training.

UKIP’s track record

UKIP has no MPs in the House of Commons, but it won 13 European Parliament seats in the 2009 elections, the same number as Labour. In 2013, it won its highest ever number of council seats (147 — an increase of 139) in the local elections.

As it has grown as a political force, UKIP has faced increased scrutiny. In February, the Financial Times newspaper published an analysis of public figures showing the party missed key votes and committees and reported that at the same time it claimed hundreds of thousands of euros in pay and expenses.

According to the analysis, UKIP leader Nigel Farage attended only one of 42 meetings of the fisheries committee on which he sat for three years and that he has the 10th worst attendance record out of all 766 MEPs.

His deputy, Paul Nuttall, attended just two out of 56 environment committee meetings. In the European Parliament itself, the FT says UKIP typically misses a third of the votes, double the average.

While 13 UKIP MEPs were elected in 2009, UKIP now has just seven MEPs (including Roger Helmer who was elected as a Conservative in 2009).

Nikki Sinclair was expelled from the party in 2010 and currently represents the We Demand A Referendum Now Party.

Trevor Coleman, Mike Nattrass and Godfrey Bloom all resigned and now sit as independents. And both David Campbell Bannerman and Marta Andreasen left UKIP to join the Tories.

In addition to the work TULO is doing to highlight UKIP policies, unions are also supporters of the Hope Not Hate campaign against racism and fascism. Its Purple Rain blog is “Putting UKIP under the magnifying glass”. Meanwhile, the Unite general union is publishing a UKIP leaflet for its members and has also commissioned its own polling and “message testing” ahead of the European elections this month.

And the GMB general union has devised a quiz to raise awareness about Europe — particularly Euro-myths — and UKIP policies among its members. This includes the example of a UKIP campaign leaflet which last year claimed “the EU will allow 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come to the UK”. As the GMB points out, 29 million is the entire population of Romania and Bulgaria combined.

And while UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall claims that the British labour market has been hit by a “deluge of immigrants”, particularly from Eastern Europe, who are “adversely affecting our labour market and also putting an intolerable strain on our housing stock, education and health services”, the GMB says that there are around 2.3 million EU migrants living in the UK — less than 2% of our total population — while 2.2 million British people live in another EU member state.

“Our approach has been to put the facts out there and to let people make up their own minds,” GMB European officer Kathleen Walker Shaw told Labour Research. “We’ve tried to get our message over in a fun way, encouraging debate and have found it to be really effective.”