Unions have warned that workers’ rights are in jeopardy after the government unveiled new plans to scrap EU rules on working hours as part of its campaign to cut “unnecessary red tape”.
The announcement comes as the proposed removal of up to 4,000 EU-era regulations by the end of the year was dropped after a private meeting with Brexiter MPs.
Ministers unveiled a regulatory reform package on Wednesday on the withheld EU bill, which they said will help companies cut costs.
The package included reducing “disproportionate and time-consuming reporting requirements” for specific elements of working time regulations, the part of UK law that implements key EU employment regulations and rights.
But Paul Nowak, the Trades Union Council (TUC) general secretary, seized on the government’s stated goals, calling them “a gift to rogue employers who seek to exploit workers and subject them to long, exhausting shifts without enough rest.”
On the changes to holiday pay, which will be calculated differently than current EU law, he added: “Current law ensures that most holidays are paid according to workers’ normal earnings, including regular overtime. Ministers shouldn’t meddle in this.”
Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said the government would maintain the 48-hour requirement of the EU’s working time directive and would otherwise uphold the UK’s “world-leading employment standards”.
His decision not to get rid of thousands of EU-era regulations by the end of the year was met with opprobrium by the Conservatives, with former Brexit minister Jacob Rees-Mogg tweeting: “Sadly the PM has trashed his own promise instead of EU laws”.
Badenoch had previously described the changes to a so-called “bonfire” of EU law, which originally meant thousands of laws would automatically face the ax on December 31 under a controversial “sunset clause” deadline.
An amendment now clarifies which regulations will be removed from the UK statute book, rather than highlighting only retained EU laws that would be saved, he said.
The move, described by Labor as a “humiliating U-turn”, marks the abandonment of the year-end deadline that experts had warned was totally unrealistic.
Badenoch said the government would instead make “employment law improvements” that could help companies save around £1bn a year, while safeguarding workers’ rights.
There would be consultations on the recording of working hours and ways to optimize engagement with workers when a company transfers to new owners.
Other new plans include “promoting competition and productivity in the workplace” limiting the duration of the so-called “non-compete clauses” to three months.
The government said it would provide more flexibility for up to 5 million UK workers to join a competitor or start a rival business after leaving a job.
Instead of the 3,700 laws the government had prepared for a “bonfire” of EU law, it emerged this year that it aimed to scrap 800 statutes and regulations.
However, there are fears about the perceived threat to everything from passenger rights and compensation for canceled flights, to equal employment law and environmental standards.
The bill was widely condemned by legal experts not only for the sunset clause, but also for the sweeping powers it gave ministers to amend or remove laws without the usual parliamentary scrutiny.
Badenoch said on Wednesday: “As part of this push for deregulation, I can announce today that we will make improvements to employment law that could help businesses save around £1bn a year, while safeguarding the rights of workers.” workers.
“We will consult on cutting unnecessary red tape in recording working hours, streamline engagement with workers when a business transfers to new owners and give up to 5 million UK workers greater freedom to change jobs. by limiting the non-compete clauses”.
Labor colleague Jenny Chapman, the Cabinet Office shadow minister, accused the government of making a “humiliating U-turn”.
“After wasting months of parliamentary time, the Tories have admitted that this universally unpopular bill will hurt the economy, at a time when businesses and families are already struggling with the Tory cost of living crisis,” he said. .
“Now they are trying to adopt some of the Labor amendments to try to rescue this sinking bill.”