PM’s post-Brexit workers’ rights measures flimsy, say unions

New measures to protect workers’ rights after Brexit have been roundly rejected by unions and Labour as “flimsy” and “deeply disappointing” after they were unveiled by the Prime Minister.

Under the proposals, MPs will be allowed to vote on whether to take new EU workplace rules, rather than them being automatically written into UK law.

Union leaders warned the measures will risk UK employees’ rights falling behind those in neighbouring countries.

Head of the Trades Union Congress Frances O’Grady said the PM’s announcement was “blatant window dressing” that left protections under threat, while Labour said the proposals were “utterly unacceptable and workers “will not be fooled”.

Mrs May said Britain had “led the way in workers’ rights” while maintaining a flexible and prosperous labour market.

“The enormous success of our jobs market and the wealth of opportunities for workers across the nation have long been underpinned by the policies and standards that exceed the minimums set by the EU and that has been driven by successive governments of all parties,” she said.

However the PM said that after Brexit it should be for Parliament to decide what rules are “most appropriate”, rather than automatically accepting EU changes.

Ms O’Grady said she had told Mrs May that “warm words wouldn’t cut it” when they met following the PM’s historic deal defeat in January.

“The flimsy proposals she’s unveiled today won’t even guarantee your existing rights after Brexit,” she wrote in the Daily Mirror.

“We’re talking about hard-won protections that really matter to working people. Paid holidays, time off for mums and dads, equal pay for women, limits on working hours.

“Working people need a cast-iron, legal guarantee that rights like these will be safe after Brexit, and that guarantee should be written into the deal.

“But instead of a binding guarantee, all the Prime Minister has offered is yet more weasel words.”

Frances O'Grady
Working people need a cast-iron guarantee their rights will be safe after Brexit, Frances O’Grady said (PA)

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said it was “deeply disappointing that the Government appears not to have listened to any of the concerns expressed by trade unions”.

“Workers needed assurances but unfortunately all that is on offer is reheated leftover announcements. The mistreatment of workers at the hands of greedy bosses is set to continue,” he said.

Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said that accepting the PM’s Brexit deal would mean “swapping strong legal protections on workers’ rights for legally unenforceable tweaks that are not worth the paper they are written on”.

“These promises would fail to ensure working people’s rights in the UK keep pace with those in our neighbouring countries.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said Brexit must not mean UK employees “become the cheapest to hire and the easiest to fire”.

“No-one should be hoodwinked into thinking that this is a good deal for workers. It isn’t,” he said.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said: “Instead of automatically keeping up with European workers’ rights, and using that as a floor as Labour has pledged, the Government is admitting that British workers could see their rights fall behind those of colleagues in Europe.

“This is utterly unacceptable and workers and trade unions will not be fooled.”

TUC dismisses government's "flimsy" workers' rights proposals pic.twitter.com/zQcVeJNiqN

— TUC Press Office (@TUCnews) March 5, 2019

Meanwhile Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who chairs the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, said the announcement carried an “uninspiring message that workers may not face a grim restriction of their rights when the UK leaves the EU”.

“A legal commitment to consider new EU proposals doesn’t bind a Government to accept them and doesn’t mean that a future Parliament will agree them,” she said.

The Government said it had made a commitment not to reduce the standards of workers’ rights from EU laws that remain in UK law.

“New legislation changing those laws will be assessed as to whether they uphold this commitment,” it said.

The new process will start with two EU directives that come into force after the implementation period – the Work Life Balance Directive and the Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive.

The UK has voted in favour of both directives in the European Council and intends to ask Parliament if it wants to adopt them into UK law.

The Government said there will also be an extra package of measures to strengthen enforcement of workers’ rights.

Proposals for a single labour market enforcement body will be brought forward in the coming months, having the power to enforce holiday payments for vulnerable workers and ensure agency workers are not underpaid.

Matthew Fell, the CBI’s UK chief policy director, said businesses had been clear that they are not looking for a “race to the bottom on standards”.

“Critically, this new approach maintains a key role for Parliament in assessing whether any future measures on workers’ rights are appropriate for the UK or not,” he said.

Lindsay Judge, senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The announcement of how decisions on matching future EU labour market rules will be taken provides welcome clarity.

“But it also shows that we are set for a fundamental shift after Brexit, as we move from shared minimum standards to setting our own new rules.”