‘Flimsy’ plans to protect workers after Brexit defended by Business Secretary
Business Secretary Greg Clark has defended plans to give Parliament a vote on whether new EU workplace rules should become UK law.
New measures to protect workers’ rights after Brexit were roundly rejected by unions and Labour as “flimsy” and “deeply disappointing” after they were unveiled by the Prime Minister.
But in a Commons statement on the protection of workers’ rights after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, Mr Clark said it was not right for them to automatically move onto the UK statute book.
He outlined the mechanism, which will see Parliament given the opportunity “at least every six months to consider any changes to EU workers’ rights and health and safety standards in the workplace”.
The Cabinet minister said this will “combine well our determination to honour the commitment the Prime Minister has made not to see workers’ rights eroded, along with with respecting the sovereignty of this Parliament”.
But Labour said that puts any extension to workers’ rights at the mercy of a Parliamentary majority, with shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey saying “sadly the proposals as yet drafted do not yet provide full guarantee nor assurance for UK workers”.
Labour MP Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) called the plans “worthless”.
He said: “Unless the Government goes significantly further in terms of legally enforceable rights and not just depending upon the whims of future governments… these guarantees are worthless.”
The SNP’s Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) poured scorn on the Tory record on workers’ rights, referring to the Master and Servant Act of 1823, codifying corporal punishment for workers, and the 2016 Trade Union Act, making ballots more difficult.
He added: “Rather than guaranteeing or protecting workers’ rights, this statement does no such thing, in fact it’s a misrepresentation to suggest otherwise.”
Lib Dem deputy leader Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) labelled the plans “a lemon”.
She said: “The Business Secretary knows as I do that he has Conservative colleagues who would like to see workers’ rights diluted or swept away in the name of deregulation and, who knows, one of them could be prime minister before long.
“Isn’t it true that exchanging enduring EU protections on the environment and workers’ rights for these flimsy mechanisms is like trading in a car that has a lifetime guarantee for a lemon without a logbook just because the floor mats are thrown in.”
Mr Clark said “she should have a little more faith” in the UK being “associated with high standards rather than a race to the bottom”.
Tory John Redwood (Wokingham) asked Mr Clark to explain why he had proceeded with the statement, given it had been roundly rejected by the opposition.
He said: “I thought the sole aim was to win over the Labour party and it seems they are in complete disagreement with it.”
Mr Clark replied: “I think this is an opportunity to work together and see if we can establish something that is rooted in the sovereignty of this House.”
Earlier, union leaders warned that 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”.
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.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey warned “the mistreatment of workers at the hands of greedy bosses is set to continue”.
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”.
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.
The Government said it had made a commitment not to reduce the standards of workers’ rights from EU laws that remain in UK law and there will also be an extra package of measures to strengthen enforcement of workers’ rights.