Friday 15 January 2021 / 10:14 AM Andy McDonald / Ed Miliband / Employment

Labour vows to fight tooth and nail against Government’s leaked plan to rip up workers’ rights

Labour has challenged the Government to categorically rule out specific proposals being considered which would amount to taking a “wrecking ball” to workers’ rights, and has vowed to fight “tooth and nail” against the proposals if Ministers pursue them.

Ministers are drawing up proposals that could mean longer working weeks and people losing out on paid holidays, in a wide scale ripping up of workers’ rights regulation, it has been reported by the Financial Times.

While the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng denied that the Government would lower workers’ rights, he did not deny the actual authenticity of the report nor any specific proposal on the table. In a letter to the Business Secretary, Labour has challenged him to stop talking in generalities and rule out these specific proposals.

Despite repeated, if vague, assurances from Ministers over the past year that they have no plans to diminish workers’ rights, it has now been leaked that the Business Secretary will consult on planned changes which could mean:

• A longer working week, with no legal cap on the number of hours employers can make their employees work
• Workers losing out on holiday pay and entitlement
• An end to the legal right to rest breaks at work

The scrapping of the 48-hour working week cap could seriously risk the safety of key workers including hauliers and delivery drivers, for example, who are currently have the right not to work more than 48 hours guaranteed. It could also mean NHS staff feel pressured to work excessive hours.

The news demonstrates once again that the Government’s priorities are not aligned with those of the British people, and follows their plan to cut the Universal Credit uplift and Working Tax Credits which will see 6 million families lose over £1,000 a year; and the disgraceful free school meal parcels given to families this week based on the Government’s own guidance.

With the UK having had the worst recession of major economies, Labour believes strongly that the Government’s priority should be protecting jobs and family incomes, securing our economy and rebuilding the country – not cutting workers’ rights.

Ed Miliband MP, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary said:

“Ministers have promised time and again they will not row back on workers’ rights but their mask has slipped. Crucially while the Government speaks in platitudes, there has been no real denial that the specific proposals reported are on the table.

“These proposals to rip up workers’ rights should not even be up for discussion, and Labour will fight tooth and nail against them if Ministers pursue this course of action.

“The pandemic has imposed huge hardship on workers and families in our country. As we emerge from this emergency, we cannot go back to business as usual. We owe it to them to build a better, and more secure future for Britain. The way to do that is not to take a wrecking ball to their hard-won rights, but to build on them.”


Full text of letter

Dear Kwasi,

Workers’ rights regulation 

A report in today’s Financial Times states that the government plans to “rip up” worker protections, including the 48-hour week, as part of an overhaul of UK labour markets. It has been reported that the package of  measures is being put together by your department.

Ministers have repeatedly promised that there would be no dismantling of workers’ rights after leaving the EU and Labour will hold them to that promise. We note your response to the piece on social media on 14 January, in which you reiterate this promise and say the Government is “not going to lower the standard of workers’ rights” and further “We want to protect and enhance workers’ rights going forward, not row back on them”.

In that case, it should be straightforward for you to ease the anxiety that many workers will be feeling as they read about your plans and specifically rule out the proposals to erode workers’ rights on which the FT says your department plans to consult.

We would therefore appreciate your response to the specific questions below to provide reassurance to workers and their families across the country.

  1. Will you rule out “rowing back” on the 48-hour weekly working limit which keeps workers and citizens safe in key professions?
  2. Will you rule out “rowing back” on the inclusion of voluntary overtime in holiday pay entitlement?
  3. Will you rule out “rowing back” on other changes which might undermine rights to holiday pay?
  4. Will you rule out “rowing back” on any changes to legal rights to breaks at work?
  5. Will you confirm whether there will be a consultation on changes to any workers’ rights derived from the Working Time Directive; and if so when this consultation will be published?

Businesses and workers across the country have faced one of the most difficult periods of their life. Many businesses are still deeply anxious about surviving the crisis and many workers are struggling to make ends meet and worried about their health too. Stripping back workers’ rights would reduce living standards and damage our economy.

We hope you agree that the Government’s priorities must be focused on rolling out the vaccine, securing the economy, protecting jobs and livelihoods, and supporting the safety of workers – not taking a wrecking ball to workers’ rights.

Given the worry this will cause people across the country, we request an urgent response.

Yours sincerely,

Ed Miliband MP, Shadow Business Secretary

Andy McDonald MP, Shadow Employment Rights Secretary