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The Rt. Hon. Patricia Hewitt

TUC Congress

The Rt. Hon. Patricia Hewitt


Monday, September 10, 2001

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This is a pretty special moment for me. I have been to the TUC many times. But I have never had the privilege of addressing Congress from the platform.

More than that, you have done me the honour of making me the first Labour Cabinet Minister ever to address the TUC Congress at the start of a full second term of a Labour government.

And I want to say thank you. Thank you for everything that you and your members did in securing that victory three months ago. Let me be clear - there would not be a Labour Government without a Labour movement.

I've always been a campaigner. A campaigner, a Labour Party member and a trade union member for thirty years. And it's good to see many old friends and colleagues here.

In the 1970s, we were campaigning for the Sex Discrimination Act, for equal pay, and an end to sexism and racism in our immigration laws.

In the 1980s, we were fighting to end blacklisting of trade union activists, and to the ban on Trade Union membership at GCHQ. Marching in the People's March for Jobs.

In the 1990s, working together on the Social Justice Commission, set up by John Smith when he became Leader of our Party.

We campaigned together in opposition. We worked together to save the Labour Party. Now we are delivering in government.

Now - just occasionally - we have our minor disagreements. But I had the privilege of working with Neil Kinnock during those long, hard years of opposition. And we all know that without Neil's leadership, and determination to reunite the party, we wouldn't be in government today.

And I know that however difficult it is in government, however frustrated or worried we sometimes feel, disagreement in government has got to be better than unity in opposition.

But debate on our policies doesn't mean division on our principles.

We can leave that to the Tories. After all they're all division and no principles.

Congress, I'm particularly pleased today to have been able to listen to your debate on manufacturing.

There's a lot we can learn from unions. Job security for example. When I look around today I see Bill, John Monks, John Edmunds. You've all been in post a decade or more. Then I look at DTI. Four Secretaries of State in four years. So my question is, how do you do it?

I represent Leicester West. 100 years ago, the richest city not just in Britain, but in Europe. Riches based on engineering, textiles, leather and footwear.

It's a great city today. Our exports are still strong - after all who can forget Emile Heskey's goal in Munich.

There are new companies and new jobs.

But as thousands of jobs disappeared in those long-established industries, there are also the people who were left behind. People I represent. You don't have to tell anyone from Leicester that manufacturing is having a tough time.

We've heard about it eloquently today.

Intense competition. The speed of innovation. The weakness of the euro. And now a devastating slow-down in the United States, with telecommunications and electronics hurting the worst.

Hurting the workers at Marconi, ViaSystems, and many other firms where people are facing redundancy.

I'm not going to make you or them false promises.

People want secure, stable jobs. They know we can't write a blank cheque to prop up a company that's losing millions every week and can't be rescued.

I know you want us to fix the exchange rate. But trying to get a quick fix in the past was a disaster for the British economy - and for the million manufacturing workers who lost their jobs in the recession ten years ago.

And I'm not surprised either to hear people, textile workers for instance, asking us to ban cheap imports from developing countries. But that wouldn't just damage people in poor countries - it would cost us far more jobs than we would ever save.

Even in this slowdown we have to go on building sustainable strength in manufacturing.

We'll do everything we can to help a company that's willing to invest to become more productive and more competitive. We've done it for 3000 companies in the last four years - supporting over 6 billion of investment and 135,000 jobs.

We're working with employers and employees across whole sectors. Textiles, for instance, where I've been working for the last two years with the unions - KFAT, T&G, GMB - and the employers to put in place a strategy to help more companies stay in business, move up the value-added chain and keep people in jobs.

But where redundancies are inevitable, we'll do everything we can to help people find new jobs and, if necessary, get new skills. That's what we're doing for the workers at Corus - outstanding workers who are the most productive in Europe.

Yes, it is tough in manufacturing. It is very tough. But it's not all bad news. And I will never talk down British manufacturing or talk down British workers. That's what the Tories do. We'll never do it.

Manufacturing matters. It matters to our economy, to the people who work in it, to all of us who enjoy its products. And I'm determined that under my leadership the DTI will be a dynamic department on the side of manufacturing and manufacturing workers.

And Ken I am the Minister for Manufacturing.

There is a lot of nonsense talked about the end of manufacturing - the idea that there's a 'new economy' that will replace manufacturing.

The truth is that right across the globe, new technologies are transforming every product and every service, every part of the production process and every sector of the economy.

So we have a science-rich, technology-rich agricultural industry.

A science-rich, technology-rich motor manufacturing industry. And aerospace. And chemicals.

People say to me - in twenty years time, will we still be a manufacturing nation? Of course we will.

Ten years ago, biotechnology scarcely existed. Now we?re the leaders in Europe - in an industry already employing 18,000 people.

I don't know what new industries will exist twenty years from today. But I do know that we're investing over 1billion in our science base - and we have some of the best scientists in the world. And also I know we can do even better, getting more of that science and technology out of the labs and into the factories. That?s how we?ll get the new industries, and the new manufacturing jobs for the future.

I want to see 'invented in Britain' become 'made in Britain'.

Congress, in our first term, the economic priority was stability. Because stability, above all, is what business needs if it's going to invest for the long-term.

In our second term, the challenge is productivity.

Productivity isn't about working people into the ground. It's about helping companies to release the potential of their workforce. Adding more value. Empowering workers - and giving them the best tools for the job.

If we could close the productivity gap with the USA, our businesses would be making an extra 6,000 for every worker every year.

Higher productivity means higher wages - yes, and higher profits too, more leisure time, better public services and a better quality of life for us all.

Every time I visit one of the outstanding companies we have in our country, I'm struck by a very simple truth. The difference between being world-class and being just average is whether the firm can release the potential of its workforce. That's why modern management at its best is about empowering people - in the private sector and in public services too.

Look at Ford - their European Diversity Council, in partnership with the Unions, shows that equal opportunities aren't an optional extra but an integral part of their business. Whatever their religion, race or ethnic background.

Or BAe Systems. You don't always expect to meet company directors at a union conference. But when I was with Sir Ken Jackson at the AEEU conference in June, the shop stewards and the directors told me about the success of the partnership there - that involves the GMB, MSF, TGWU and UCATT as well.

Or take Gist - the logistics company that Bill Morris was telling me about the other day. A partnership so effective that Gist's chief executive describes the union as the ?silent partner? the company's successful relationship with the food division of Marks and Spencers.

In all these examples - highly productive people in high performance workplaces. Workers and managers, business and unions, working together in a partnership for productivity.

I sometimes hear people accuse this government of being pro business. Well, of course we're pro business. We want our businesses to succeed, just as your members want the businesses they work for to succeed. But being in favour of business means backing good businesses - not bad ones.

Outstanding businesses have outstanding leaders. And when someone turns a business round, or creates an extraordinary new product or a whole new way of doing business, they deserve their rewards and so do the workers. World-class pay for world-class results: no-one has a problem with that.

But the business leaders I admire don't just share the gain. When they get things wrong - and that can always happen in a world as complex and fast-changing as this - and when workers are losing their jobs, and savers are losing their money, business leaders share the pain as well.

We have many outstanding businesses. Others that could do even better. But then there's the minority that are just plain bad.

Just last week I was talking to an Asian woman in my constituency. She's being paid in cash. She's not getting the national minimum wage. And she's too scared to report her employer to the hotline.

Congress, we're not going to tolerate firms breaking the law like that.

Thanks to the national minimum wage we have delivered a pay rise to one and a half million workers and we're going to make sure every one gets the pay they are entitled to.

We've gone a long way to raise standards at work.

The minimum wage.

Four weeks' paid holiday.

Thirteen weeks' parental leave.

The right to be represented by your union - and the right for members to get recognition for their union.

And today I have published proposals to strengthen TUPE. When public service workers move from the public to the private sector, we have already made sure their rights and pensions are protected. But it is not working properly when the same workers then move on to another private sector company.

We can't allow workers to be left in limbo when a public service contract transfers from one company to another. And we won't allow our public servants to be short-changed. That's why I am going to strengthen protection for occupational pension rights.

We are also committed to review the entire operation of the Employment Relations Act. And if legislation is needed, then we'll legislate within the lifetime of this Parliament.

Standards like these are about fairness.

But they're also about productivity.

It's hardly surprising that businesses that give their workers hours that suit their families find their people are more productive.

I'm a mother as well as a Minister. I know how tough it is trying to balance work and home - and I'm lucky to have well-paid work that I love. It's much, much harder for many of my constituents - working nights as a cleaner or on a shift, looking after their children during the day.

Helping mothers - and fathers - to balance work and family is my No 1 priority as Minister for Women.

We're going to extend paid maternity leave to 26 weeks - a total of one year?s paid and unpaid leave for every mother.

We're going to introduce paid paternity leave.

And I am quite clear that we will get results from the new right we propose for parents of young children to ask for the hours they need - and the new duty for employers to consider that seriously.

I don't want thousands more tribunal cases: that's not what women want, when they're coming back to work after having a baby. But I want family-friendly working on the agenda of every business. That's why we asked Sir George Bain to sit down with colleagues from the TUC, the CBI and small businesses and work out effective, practical ways of making family-friendly working a reality.

It's not surprising either that the most productive businesses have effective partnerships between workers and management - and effective procedures for dealing with problems.

Far too many tribunal cases come from firms where there is no grievance or disciplinary procedure. That's why we're proposing to get sensible dispute resolution into those businesses. And we need to strengthen ACAS and improve our employment tribunals, so that people who have still been unfairly treated can get it dealt with as quickly as possible.

And Congress, we have to stop workers finding out that they're going to lose their jobs by listening to the radio.

We've agreed with our European partners proposals for a new Directive on Information and Consultation.

Now we didn't sign up to the earlier version. It wasn't right for us. But the new proposal allows managers and workers to agree arrangements for information and consultation that will suit their particular business. That will be good for partnership - and good for productivity.

Congress, everyone knows that I believe in business. But I also strongly believe in trade unions. The new unionism - trade unions who are partners of change, not opponents of change - are part of creating a high-performance economy. And trade unionists are part of my department's partnership. Not because you pay, but because of the expertise you bring to the table.

Congress, we have a choice. Britain can take the low road. Low wages, low skills, low quality goods. That's no future for our country or our workers.

Or we can take the high road to productivity. A high value-added, high skill, high wage economy.

Britain led the world into the first industrial revolution. Now we can be leaders in the knowledge driven economy.

To do that we must all raise our game. Government, unions and business.

I give you this commitment. I will work in partnership with you and your members to meet this challenge.

Friends, join me in a partnership for productivity. A partnership for success.

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