Rachel Reeves decries lack of employment bill in Queen’s speech

Labour’s Rachel Reeves made a clear attempt to start reconnecting with the party’s lost supporters by using her debut as shadow chancellor to back British workers and to attack the lack of government action on employment rights in the Queen’s speech.

Reeves said a Labour government would introduce measures to tackle low pay, the gig economy and companies’ ability to fire workers and then rehire them on worse conditions.

Boris Johnson’s administration had failed to include an employment bill in the speech, despite a 2019 manifesto pledge to do so, she said. “Improving workers’ rights has never been, and will never be, a priority for a Conservative government.”

Reeves replaced Anneliese Dodds as shadow chancellor after the loss of the Hartlepool byelection and council seats in what were once considered Labour heartlands in the Midlands and the north of England.

In a sign that the party believes it needs to rebuild a reputation for economic competence, Reeves began her speech by saying the key test was whether taxpayers trusted her to look after their money. “It is a test I intend to meet,” she said.

Eleven years of Conservative government had left the public sector underfunded and unprepared for the pandemic, she said, and too many workers were living “pay cheque to pay cheque”.

Facing Rishi Sunak in the Commons for the first time, Reeves struck a patriotic note. “Labour is proud of British-made goods and the people who make them. We will back British business and British workers,” she said.

Sunak said action by the government had protected jobs and livelihoods since the start of the pandemic. Fears that unemployment would hit 12% of the workforce had proved too pessimistic and the jobless rate was now likely to peak at about half that level.

He said the UK was on course for a strong economic recovery, which would be “turbo-charged” by measures in the Queen’s speech to level up the country. “Levelling up is the task the government intends to meet head on,” he said.

Reeves contrasted Sunak’s “levelling up” rhetoric with the contracts awarded to firms during the pandemic.

“The government is taking the public for fools,” she said. “Public money has lined the pockets of friends and donors of the Conservative party and he has failed to claw back millions of pounds wasted on contracts that didn’t deliver for the NHS.”

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