New EU employment law to be reviewed by Parliament post-Brexit

Theresa May at Prime Minister's questions today
Photo: House of Commons/PA Wire/PA Images

Theresa May will today unveil how the UK government will handle emerging EU laws concerning workers’ rights after Brexit.

The Prime Minister will say: “After Brexit it should be for Parliament to decide what rules are most appropriate, rather than automatically accepting EU changes.

“When it comes to workers’ rights, this Parliament has set world-leading standards and will continue to do so in the future, taking its own decisions working closely with trade unions and businesses.”

Brexit mustn’t 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.” – Dave Prentis, Unison

It follows the government’s commitment not to diminish workers’ rights derived from EU directives.

Parliament will be given the right to consider any future changes in EU law that strengthen workers’ rights or workplace health and safety standards, and then vote on whether they should be adopted into UK law.

Trade unions and businesses will be given a new and enhanced role in this process, and will be consulted with in preparing updates on changes to EU employment legislation.

Parliament will be given regular updates giving MPs a choice on the action government will take in response.

The TUC however has dismissed the government’s “flimsy” proposals. General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Prime Minister has made a mockery of her own claim that Britain is leading the way on workers’ rights.

”These are flimsy procedural tweaks. They come nowhere close to ensuring existing rights are protected. And they won’t stop workers’ rights in the UK from falling behind those in the rest of Europe.

“What’s more, there’s nothing to stop a future right-wing government tearing up this legislation altogether. MPs must not be taken in by this blatant window dressing. Our hard-won rights are still under threat.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis agreed: “Any guarantees about protecting existing and ensuring future employment rights must be in the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement. Anything less, and the promises aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

“European laws have made working in the UK safer and better. Brexit mustn’t 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.”

We will ensure Parliament is given a vote on the action government will take in response to changes to EU legislation on workers’ rights.” – Greg Clark, business secretary

Two new EU directives – the Work Life Balance Directive and the Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive – both of which come into force after Brexit and the government’s planned implementation period, will be included in the parliamentary reviews.

Government has voted in favour of these directives in the European Council but still intends to ask Parliament if it wants to adopt them into UK law.

The Work Life Balance Directive introduces new rights for parents and carers, such as two months’ paid leave for each parent up until the child is eight and  five days’ leave for those caring for sick relatives.

The Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive will set the terms of employment for workers by their first working day and provides more stability if you work in shifts. The Government is already committed to many of these measures.

Theresa May added: “We have as a country led the way in workers’ rights while maintaining a flexible 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.”

Business secretary Greg Clark said: “While the EU sets minimum requirements in many areas of workers’ rights, time and again the UK has led the way and chosen to exceed them. We are determined to maintain this record of leadership outside the EU.

“Yet it is a fact that some people felt that the rights of workers would not be adequately addressed, so as part of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill we will ensure Parliament is given a vote on the action government will take in response to changes to EU legislation on workers’ rights.”

In the coming months, the government has said it will also announce proposals to merge a number of enforcement bodies including: HM Revenue and Customs’ minimum wage enforcement arm; the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, which investigates reports of exploitation and illegal activity in the workplace; and the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, which protects the rights of agency workers.

The single body would have the power, for example, to enforce holiday payments for vulnerable workers and ensure agency workers are not underpaid. It would also have a duty to consult unions and employment unions on its work.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy for the CIPD, said: “Better, more joined-up enforcement of existing employment rights is crucial to creating fairer workplaces. The proposal for a single enforcement body should help to deliver this.”

Secondary legislation on measures set out in the Matthew Taylor Review will also be debated in the House of Commons tomorrow, including ending the legal loophole which enables some firms to pay agency workers less than permanent staff – the “Swedish derogation” – and quadrupling maximum employment tribunal fines for employers who have shown “malice, spite or gross oversight” from £5,000 to £20,000.

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