Kwasi Kwarteng confirms that there is no intention to reduce workers’ rights

29 January 2021

A number of publications have recently reported that the Government was planning to conduct a review of existing workers’ rights, following the end of the Brexit transition period, and that this could lead to less favourable rights for those working in the UK.

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Kwasi Kwarteng confirmed that this would not be the case. He stated:

“I just want to make something very clear and unequivocal at the outset: we will not reduce workers’ rights. There is no Government plan to reduce workers’ rights. As the new Secretary of State, I have been extremely clear that I do not want to diminish workers’ rights, and on my watch there will be no reduction in workers’ rights. I do not want there to be any doubt about my or the Government’s intentions in this area. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) and the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) were kind enough to send me a letter in my first week in the job asking for reassurances on this matter. I am happy to report that I have provided those reassurances, and I am very willing to provide them every time.

We will not row back on the 48-hour weekly working limit derived from the working time directive. We will not reduce the UK annual leave entitlement, which is already much more generous than the EU minimum standard. We will not row back on legal rights to breaks at work. I will say it again: there is no Government plan to reduce workers’ rights.

The Government have managed to have a record that is unimpeachable on this subject. Our manifesto promised, among other things, to get Brexit done and to maintain the existing level of protections for workers provided by our laws and regulations. We have delivered Brexit, and we will not use this new-found freedom to reduce workers’ rights. In any case, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough said, our higher standards were never dependent on our membership of the EU. The UK has one of the best employment rights records in the world. It is well known that in many areas the UK goes further than the EU on workers’ protections. We have one of the highest minimum wages in the world, and the Government are increasing this again for workers on 1 April, but in the EU there is no requirement to offer a minimum wage or sick pay. In the UK, people get over five weeks of annual leave, minimum; the EU requires only four weeks. In the UK, people get a year of maternity leave; the EU minimum is just 14 weeks. The EU has only just agreed rights to flexible working, over 15 years behind the UK. The Opposition are simply wrong to hold the EU up as the gold standard. Our equalities legislation, and our maternity and paternity entitlements, are already considerably better than the EU’s. Now we have left the EU, our Government and Parliament are able to decide what rules should apply and make improvements where we believe there is a need to do so.”


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