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Workers’ rights and Brexit

Tory plans to scrap rights will scupper any trade deal, says Len McCluskey
Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

After failing miserably on Monday to reassure millions of workers that their basic rights at work won’t be scrapped, Theresa May has another opportunity when she stands up at the last PMQs of the year later today.


She would not explicitly rule out scrapping the working the working time directive, while exerting her authority over the fantasies of hard right cabinet ministers who want to make Britain a less safe, more miserable place to work.


Had she done so, she would have shown that she was in tune with the British public too, as Left Foot Forward’s exclusive poll shows.


Nearly three quarters of people surveyed believe that EU regulations on workers’ rights, which include the working time directive, should be enshrined into UK law.


Just four per cent think these regulations and protections should be weakened. This shows clearly there’s no appetite for the Brexit fantasy land of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of diminished rights at work, of people working longer for less.


People aren’t stupid. They do not associate the Tories with fairness at work, and will not believe a cabinet of millionaires can understand the struggles of working life.


Anti-trade union Act

However much Ms May wants to portray her party as on the side of working people, she does after all lead the party that ushered in the needless, divisive anti-trade union act.


Her party’s economic policies have also caused the biggest downwards spiral in wages, matched on the other side of the balance sheet by the sharp rise in cost of living.  The UK is alone among major western economies in seeing living standards decline.


Scrapping the working time directive would see over seven million losing rights to paid holidays – 4.7m of them women – and many eking out a living in insecure precarious work.


Workers could also lose the right to lunch and rest breaks, and night workers could lose some health and safety protections.


In key sectors of the economy such as construction, heavy industry and transport to name just few, working lives and the lives of the public would become less safe.


With safety-critical rest breaks and regulations governing the maximum amount of days in row at work consigned to dustbin, tired and stressed workers are more prone to accidents.


But there is another question Ms May must put to those cabinet members salivating for the scrapping the working time directive; how do they think that the UK can maintain a strong trading relationship with Europe while revving up for a race to the bottom?


As Michel Barnier warns, why would the EU give the UK a trade deal and access to a major global market that underpins millions jobs if we are a country of poor protections, environmental hazard and chlorinated chicken?


If her cabinet does not share the vision of a high skilled, decent work economy that we’re routinely promised by the governing party, but a post-Brexit Britain that will make its way in the world by undercutting, stripping away protections and working its people until they drop, then come clean with the voters.


The PM’s promise that our rights would not diverge from those of our brothers and sisters in the EU is only weeks old, yet already it is under attack not from business but by a handful of Brexit buccaneers on her benches.


When Mrs May gets to her feet for the last questions of this year, she must spell out that 2018 will not be another year in which this country’s working people pay dearly for her party’s ideology.


This comment first appeared in Left Foot Forward, December 20 

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