Workers’ rights protections ‘not worth the paper they are written on’

Tim Roache of the GMB arrives at Downing Street for Brexit talks. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Tim Roache of the GMB arrives at Downing Street for Brexit talks. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

Trade uniionists have criticised the government’s approach to protecting workers’ rights after Brexit by claiming that the substitutes are “not worth the paper they are written on”.

Theresa May had said parliament should decide what rules are most appropriate after Brexit, rather than automatically accepting EU changes prompting the unions to voice concerns.

But the government has tried to assure unions and Labour that they would be protected, despite having to offer parliament votes on the legislation first.

It said that it has made a commitment not to reduce the standards of workers’ rights from EU laws that are retained in UK law and will ensure that new legislation changing those laws will be assessed as to whether they uphold this commitment.

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 prime minister said: “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.

“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.”

However the approach has failed to win over one of the leading unions.

Tim Roache, the general secretary for the GMB union, said: “Support for the prime minister’s bad Brexit deal means 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.

“The crux of this announcement seems to be that parliament can make new laws if it wants - it can already do that, and ministers on the government benches have been more interested in removing workers’ rights than protecting them.

Chair of the GMB parliamentary group and Best for Britain supporter Jo Stevens MP said that “No trade union leader, member or worker will be taken in by this announcement and neither will Labour MPs.”

She explained: “If this is all the prime minister has to offer to trade unions and working people to protect their rights after Brexit, then she may as well not have bothered.

“Meaningless, rehashed, unkept promises rolled out again in a desperate attempt to get her shoddy Brexit deal through.

“Any future Tory government can repeal or amend primary legislation to reduce and remove workplace rights. A promise to consult unions and businesses on changes is nothing new and the government will continue to ignore the views of trade unions as it has done on every piece of employment legislation it has introduced.”

Gareth Thomas MP, leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, added: “The government have offered the trade unions next to nothing – or maybe even less than nothing – in the hope of securing their support for a Brexit deal. But it is a Brexit that trade unionists know will leave us worse off.

“If the new labour market body takes over the roles of the Low Pay Commission and ACAS then two of the historic gains of the labour movement – a statutory body dedicated to abolishing unfair low pay and a body working to secure effective trade union negotiations – will disappear.

“No trade unionist would ever accept the paper promises of ministers in this government, which has spent all its time in office up to now trying to weaken unions and cripple their ability to deliver for their members, without at least putting it back to their members for a final say.

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