Following pressure from Labour and trade unions, the government has taken yet another screeching U-turn after axing a review of EU-derived workers’ rights.
Earlier this month, the Financial Times reported reported that a “package of deregulatory measures” on employment rights was in the works by the business department with the approval of the prime minister.
While new business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng initially dismissed the Financial Times reports, he confirmed days later that the review of employment rights in the wake of the end of the Brexit transition period was indeed underway.
But last night, Kwarteng said in an interview with ITV’s Peston that the review would now be scrapped.
“So the review is no longer happening within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). I made it very, very clear to officials in the department that we’re not interested in watering down workers’ rights,” he said.
“I can’t have been more clear about this on a number of occasions. I’ve said repeatedly that Brexit gives us the opportunity to have higher standards and a higher growth economy and that’s what officials in the department are 100% focused on.”
The Guardian reported that the review of employment rights was initially signed off by Alok Sharma, Kwarteng’s predecessor, who left his post as business secretary recently to head up preparations for the Cop26 climate conference.
Some of the changes to workers’ rights reportedly considered in the now-axed review included scrapping the working time directive, which mandates a maximum average 48-hour work week, ‘tweaking’ regulations on rest breaks, excluding overtime pay in holiday pay entitlement calculations, and scrapping the requirement for employers to log working hours daily.
After the review of employment rights was first confirmed by Kwarteng, Labour forced a vote on the issue in an Opposition Day debate on Monday (January 25), demanding that the government rule out the changes to workers’ rights.
The motion was approved by 263 votes after Tory MPs were instructed to abstain. This is the third time that Opposition Day motions were ignored by Tory MPs as part of a new directive from prime minister Boris Johnson.
While Unite general secretary Len McCluskey welcomed the news that the review of employment rights was – at least for now – not going forward, he called on the government to make good on its promises to improve workers’ rights.
“Parents and the low paid will breathe a sigh of relief that the Tories are not yet coming for their rights,” McCluskey said. “The epidemic of low pay and insecure work in this country are the real problems, not the basic rights of working people.
“Kwasi Kwarteng now has to put his money where his mouth is; if he wants to improve the lot of UK workers, then pick up the phone,” he added. “We’ve got a list ready to go. He could start by outlawing the appalling fire and rehire practice that is laying waste to wages across the country, and fix sick pay so that being unwell and unable to work in this country is not a sure path to poverty.”
By Hajera Blagg