UK workers’ rights at risk in plans to tear up EU labour market rules

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LaToya Harding
·Contributor
·3 min read
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Factor worker uk employment workers' rights
The main areas of focus are ending the 48-hour working week and changing rules around rest breaks while at work and overtime pay. Changes to holiday pay entitlements are also being considered. Photo: Getty

Workers’ rights in the UK could soon be torn up under plans to shake-up post-Brexit regulations, including changes to the 48-hour week, rest breaks, and overtime pay entitlement.

The deregulatory measures are being put together by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with approval from Downing Street, the Financial Times reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The move, which has sparked outrage with trade unions, has not yet been agreed by ministers.

The main areas of focus are ending the 48-hour working week and changing rules around rest breaks while at work, and overtime pay. Changes to holiday pay entitlements are also being considered.

According to the newspaper, the government also wants to rid the requirement for companies to log daily reporting of working hours, saving around £1bn ($1.36bn).

“The UK has one of the best workers’ rights records in the world,” a government spokesperson told the FT. “Leaving the EU allows us to continue to be a standard setter and protect and enhance UK workers’ rights.”

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Labour described the reported plan as a “disgrace” and warned it would fight any such moves “tooth and nail,” PA Media reports.

David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, said: “In the worst economic crisis in hundreds of years, it’s a disgrace the government is preparing to dismantle workers’ rights. Ministers have no mandate to enforce longer hours at work or take away paid holidays. We will fight this and stand up for the basic rights workers enjoy.”

Meanwhile, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband added that the Labour party would strongly oppose any moves to reduce existing standards.

“These proposals are not about cutting red tape for businesses but ripping up vital rights for workers. They should not even be up for discussion,” he said in a tweet.

“People are already deeply worried about their jobs and health. It’s a disgrace the government is considering forcing them to work longer hours or lose paid holidays.”

Len McCluskey, general secretary at Unite the Union, said: “No decent government would pick this moment to launch an attack on the rights of its citizens.The people who have kept this country fed, safe and supported under unimaginable pressures deserve so much better than to be threatened with the loss of their basic rights.”

He adds: “This is a huge mistake by this government. The vulnerable and low waged have paid the highest price in this pandemic. Respect these workers - do not take away their basic rights.”

However, newly appointed business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has since said the government wanted to improve workplace protections and not reduce them.

“We are not going to lower the standards of workers’ rights,” he tweeted. “The UK has one of the best workers’ rights records in the world – going further than the EU in many areas.

“We want to protect and enhance workers’ rights going forward, not row back on them.”

Kwarteng was named business secretary only last week after Alok Sharma stepped down to lead the United Nations COP26 climate change summit.

The mini reshuffle meant that Kwarteng, who has been Conservative MP for Spelthorne since 2010, will be first black secretary of state. He is currently the only black politician in the Cabinet.

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