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What We Want To Hear - But Probably Won't - In Theresa May's Speech

04/10/2017 07:50 BST | Updated 04/10/2017 07:50 BST
CHRISTOPHER FURLONG via Getty Images

I wouldn't like to be in Theresa May's shoes today, as she stands up to address her hopelessly divided and dispirited party.

It's no wonder that she's falling back on her same old lines - like 'building a country that works for everyone' - her cabinet presumably won't let her away with anything else.

The problem is, we've heard this all before. We heard it on the steps of Downing Street when she became prime minister, we heard it in her conference speech last year.

And at first, we at the TUC were willing to take her at her word. This time last year, we offered to work with the government on the policy areas where we had some agreement: workers on boards, industrial strategy, corporate governance reform.

Unfortunately, whether it was a case of wouldn't or couldn't, the prime minister hasn't kept her promises to working people.

The proposal to put workers on boards has been abandoned, real wages are still falling in both the private and public sectors, and working people are in the teeth of another living standards crisis.

And despite all that, the government is still pursuing an extreme Brexit that will only compound the problems in our economy.

So when ministers say they're building a country that works for everyone - why should we believe them? The evidence simply doesn't bear it out.

What we want to hear - but probably won't

Rather than more platitudes, there are three things we want to hear from the prime minister today. Three straightforward steps that would give substance to the spin.

Firstly, it's time to give all our public sector workers a long-overdue pay rise that, at the very least, matches the rate of inflation.

After seven years of real-terms pay cuts, the government knows it's lost the argument. But instead of genuinely trying to make amends, they've offered a series of half measures - offering too little, too late to too few of our hardworking public servants.

If pay is adjusted to anything less than inflation then it's a pay cut not a pay rise. And it's not good enough to lift the pay cap for some workers and not others. Our public services are a team, not a pick'n'mix.

Perhaps most worryingly, different ministers have suggested that any new pay settlements will be funded from existing budgets - forcing further cuts to already-struggling services.

So we need a clear commitment from the prime minister to providing new money for a real-terms pay increase for all our public servants.

Secondly, working people around the country need better, more secure jobs, with employers who respect their rights. The prime minister knows that, which is why she set up the Taylor Review into modern employment practices.

Unfortunately, the review turned out to be another case of warm words and little action. It proposed an inadequate 'right to request' guaranteed hours, which is no right at all for those at the sharp end of the labour market.

So today, let's hear some concrete proposals for cracking down on bad bosses who treat their staff like disposable labour and refuse them basic rights.

And finally, we need a realistic, grown-up approach to Brexit. May needs to forget about the internal squabbles of her party - not to mention her cabinet - and put working people's jobs and rights first.

That means sticking to her guns on a transition period inside the single market and customs union, and keeping all options on the table in the longer term.

However she tries to paint it, the prime minister is losing the confidence of ordinary working people. If she wants to turn that around she needs more than rhetoric.

Common sense steps like these, that genuinely put the focus on ordinary working people, are the only way forward.

Frances O'Grady is the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC)