Brexit: UK ‘risks falling behind’ EU on workers’ rights

worker rights

The UK is at a “real risk” of falling behind the EU when it comes to workers’ rights, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) says.

The union body said the EU had “various initiatives” in the pipeline which would improve standards once they became law.

But it said the UK had no similar legislation on the way.

The government previously said it wants to “protect and enhance workers’ rights going forward, not row back on them”.

The TUC’s call comes three months after a new post-Brexit trade deal came into force between the UK and EU.

Both sides have committed not to lower labour standards in a way that impacts trade or investment – but that does not mean they have to match each other.

Gap widening?

Nonetheless, the TUC said the UK had already failed to implement directives it agreed to while still a member of the EU, including:

  • A work-life balance directive, which gives fathers the right to day-one paid paternity leave and gives all workers the right to request flexible work
  • And a transparent and predictable working conditions directive, which gives workers compensation for cancelled shifts, predictability of hours for zero hours contracts, and a right to free mandatory training.

It said further initiatives were being considered by the EU that could improve conditions for “platform workers” and give employees the right to “digitally disconnect” outside working hours.

The bloc is also looking at ways to make employers accountable for the rights of workers in their supply chains.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that “as a bare minimum, the government must keep the pace with the EU on rights”.

“Just three months after the UK-EU deal came into force, we’re already at real risk of losing ground to the EU on workers’ rights.

“Again and again, Boris Johnson promised that his government would protect and enhance workers’ rights. It’s high time the prime minister lived up to his word.”

‘Raising standards’

She noted the government had promised to introduce a new employment bill to improve people’s rights at work in 2019 but was yet to bring it before Parliament.

She said the bill could “end exploitative work practices like zero-hours contracts, once and for all”.

In January, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng scrapped a planned review of workers’ rights amid fears it would lead to an erosion of job protections, such as the 48-hour week, holiday entitlements and overtime pay.

At the time, Mr Kwarteng stressed the government had never intended to water down standards and if anything wanted to raise them.