Unions relieved as Kwasi Kartweng scraps review of worker's rights

Secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Kwasi Kwarteng 

Secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Kwasi Kwarteng - Credit: ITV Peston

A review of worker's rights post-Brexit, which unions feared would lower standards, will no longer be going ahead says business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng in an abrupt U-turn.

The move has come as a huge surprise after he confirmed to MPs just last week that the government would be investigating how EU employment rights protections might change after Brexit.

However, the announcement was met with criticism from unions and the opposition, with some fearing the review would negatively impact rights.

In an interview with ITV's Robert Peston the business secretary said: “So the review is no longer happening within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

"I made it very very clear to officials in the department that we’re not interested in watering down workers’ rights. I can’t have been more clear about this on a number of occasions.

"I’ve said repeatedly that Brexit gives us the opportunity to have higher standards and a higher growth economy and that’s what officials in the department are 100% focused on.”

The consultation is believed to have been initially approved by predecessor Alok Sharma and the Financial Times reported the proposals include ending the 48-hour maximum working week, removing overtime pay when calculating certain holiday pay entitlements and changes to rules about work breaks.

However, the government rejected that report last week, with Kwarteng tweeting they want to 'protect and enhance' rights going forward, not row back on them.

Labour’s employment rights spokesman Andy McDonald welcomed the hasty ditching of the review and tweeted saying: “Congratulations to those who campaigned against the government’s plan to rip up workers’ rights and forced this U-turn.

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“Employment rights should be strengthened, not weakened. The government should start by outlawing fire and rehire tactics.”

Unite the Union was pleased by the decision and general secretary Len McCluskey said: "Parents and the low paid will breathe a sigh of relief that the Tories are not yet coming for their rights.  

"The epidemic of low pay and insecure work in this country are the real problems, not the basic rights of working people.

"Kwasi Kwarteng now has to put his money where his mouth is; if he wants to improve the lot of UK workers, then pick up the phone.  We've got a list of desperately needed workers’ rights ready to go."

McCluskey suggested the business secretary should address fire and rehire practises as well as fixing sick pay,  so that being unwell and unable to work is not a 'sure path to poverty'.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea agreed scrapping the review is a step in the right direction, but said: "For public service workers who’ve had a decade of attacks on jobs and pay, there'll be concern about what ​else is on the horizon.

“British workers were led to believe they’d have a better future after Brexit. But after threats of a public sector pay freeze from the chancellor, the government has made a pitiful start."

Mr McAnea added that staff in health, care and essential services are going to extra mile and deserve better treatment.

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