The UK would like to remove the 48-hour limit on the length of the work week, but says it will not reduce protections.
The UK government is considering workers’ rights reforms that would break European Union rules, potentially opening Britain to retaliatory action from the bloc.
Officials have drafted proposals that would remove the 48-hour limit on the length of the workweek, according to a person familiar with the matter, who said the plans were preliminary and ministers have yet to make a decision. The measures were first reported by the Financial Times.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said on Twitter that the government “is not going to lower the standards of workers’ rights”.
If the plans are continued, they risk causing friction with the EU just weeks after the UK struck a trade deal with the bloc. Negotiations dragged on just before Christmas, with a level playing field on fair competition being one of the final points of contention.
The deal allows the UK and the EU to set their own labor, environment, climate and society policies, but also allows retaliation if changes result in ‘significant impacts on trade or the investment between the parties ”.
Also under consideration are changes to the regulations regarding breaks during the working day and a proposal not to include overtime in the calculation of certain vacation pay, depending on the person. The government aims to make changes that can support business and growth, without compromising worker protection, they said.
“ Improved ” rights
“We have absolutely no intention of lowering the standards of workers’ rights,” the government said in a statement. “Leaving the EU allows us to continue to be a standard-setter and to protect and strengthen the rights of UK workers.”
Any proposals that emerge will be subject to full consultation to ensure that no policy pursued has unintended consequences that diminish workers’ rights, the person said.
Opposition Labor Party affairs spokesman Ed Miliband accused ministers of “preparing to tear apart their promises to the British people and take a hammer for workers’ rights”, and said his party “Would fight tooth and nail” to defend the existing protections.
Take away the rights
“These proposals are not aimed at reducing red tape for businesses, but at tearing up the vital rights of workers,” he said in a statement. “The government wants Britain to be competitive on the backs of ordinary workers who lose their rights.”
While the UK left the EU sharing the same environmental and labor rules, the ability to liberate the country from the Brussels bureaucracy was hailed by Brexit supporters as one of its grand prizes during the 2016 referendum campaign.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was one of the leading figures in the campaign, last week held a conference call with business leaders in which he asked them to help him decide on regulations to tear up now that the divorce with the block is over.