By a Newsnet reporter
Labour have found themselves in a shambles following a vote on workers’ rights which saw a number of backbenchers rebel against the party, and a fierce backlash from supporters on social media.
The party abstained on a vote which allowed the UK Government to speed a hastily drafted retroactive law through parliament that will overturn the outcome of a court of appeal judgement and ensure the government no longer has to pay benefit rebates to about a quarter of a million jobseekers.
The vote in the Commons came after last month’s Court of Appeal ruling against the UK government’s controversial welfare-to-work scheme, under which more than 230,000 jobseekers had been forced into work placements without pay and with little information about what was happening and why.
The estimated pay-out due to claimants wrongly sanctioned by the illegal workfare scheme is £130 million.
The move to strip illegally penalised claimants of their legal rights was defended by Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne, who said that Labour would not oppose the bill, but added that “ministers must launch an independent review of the sanctions regime with an urgent report to parliament”.
The campaign group Boycott Workfare reacted angrily to the news that the Labour party would not oppose the Conservative measure.
A spokesperson for the group said:
“It is just as disgusting to hear Liam Byrne say that the social security people are due must be withheld or the entire welfare budget be cut. Everyone knows abstaining is as good as voting for the bill.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas, who voted along with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and a number of Labour rebels against the bill, said:
“By failing to vote against this Bill, Labour is effectively supporting the Government and indicating that it, like David Cameron’s administration, sees no problem in bringing in emergency legislation to overturn a court’s findings when it goes against them.
“In a fair society, the solution to unemployment is not to force people into workfare programmes which do little more than supply big companies with free labour. It’s to create jobs that pay a living wage, for example, by investing in new sustainable infrastructure projects and boosting the jobs-rich low carbon economy.
“Tuesday’s vote was about sending a signal to all of those people being hit by this Government’s cuts and thinly-veiled attacks on the poor that there is an effective Opposition in this Parliament willing to stand up for these principles – even if Labour won’t.”
Dr Eilidh Whiteford , the SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson commented :
“Labour have found themselves in a shambles over this vote- they have sold out on their founding principles of protecting workers’ rights. The party could not even convince their MPs their position was a good idea, and many rebelled. Quite understandably, they are facing a fierce backlash from supporters.
“A very simple principle underpins what we have been debating. If someone works a shift for an employer, they deserve a fair day’s pay for their time and effort. There are no circumstances in which it’s OK not to pay employees, or to pay them a derisory sum below the legal Minimum Wage for the work they undertake.
“There are many who will feel that the Government’s Back to Work Schemes fall some way short of this principle – but the critical point is that the courts have found aspects of the regulations and sanctions regime attached to the schemes to be unlawful.
“Labour have allowed the Tories to effectively be ‘off the hook’. That is simply astonishing, and leaves Labour with many questions to answer.
“The real solution – the only workable solution – is to drive growth and create demand in the economy. That’s the way to create jobs and get people into work. Only with a Yes vote in 2014 can we ensure that those key aims are met and we avoid the sorry situation of Tory and Labour assaults on the working poor.”
Seven Labour MPs representing Scottish constituencies rebelled against party instructions and voted with the SNP, Plaid and the Greens against the Coalition’s retrospective legislation. All others abstained and allowed the bill to pass.
The rebels were: Katy Clark, North Ayrshire and Arran; Michael Connarty, Linlithgow and East Falkirk; Ian Davidson, Glasgow South West; Mark Lazarowicz, Edinburgh North and Leith; Jim McGovern, Dundee West; Sandra Osborne, Ayr Carrick and Cumnock; Jim Sheridan, Paisley and Renfrewshire North.