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Review of UK workers' rights post-Brexit is axed in sudden U-turn


A controversial review into how EU employment rights protections could be changed after Brexit is no longer going ahead, the business secretary has announced.

In an interview with ITV’s Peston, Kwasi Kwarteng said: “So the review is no longer happening within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). I made it very very clear to officials in the department that we’re not interested in watering down workers’ rights.”

He added: “I can’t have been more clear about this on a number of occasions. I’ve said repeatedly that Brexit gives us the opportunity to have higher standards and a higher growth economy and that’s what officials in the department are 100% focused on.”

The Guardian understands the consultation on employment rights was signed off by Kwasi Kwarteng’s predecessor Alok Sharma, who left after being given a full-time role leading preparations for the Cop26 climate conference.

Initial media reports suggested the review would consider proposals including an end to the 48-hour maximum working week, changes to rules about breaks at work, removing overtime pay when calculating certain holiday pay entitlements, and getting rid of the current requirement for businesses to log information about daily working hours, to save on administration costs.

The proposals met fierce criticism from Labour and the unions, but Kwarteng rejected the claims, tweeting: “We are not going to lower the standards of workers’ rights … We want to protect and enhance workers’ rights not row back on them.”

However, speaking to MPs last week, the business secretary confirmed that his department was going ahead with the consultation with business leaders on EU employment rules, including the working time directive.

He told the business, energy and industrial strategy committee: “I think the view was that we wanted to look at the whole range of issues relating to our EU membership and examine what we wanted to keep, if you like.”

After the announcement of the review, the business secretary faced a backlash from the unions and Labour. Ed Miliband, the shadow business, energy and industry secretary, wrote for the Guardian: “The government has failed to bring in the employment bill that it promised would protect and enhance workers’ rights.”

He added: “We have seen some workers feel unable to ensure their own safety, scared to raise complaints and compelled to come into the office despite the government’s instruction to work from home.”

Kwarteng had also come under fire for his role in Britannia Unchained, a collection of essays that came out in 2012 by then Tory backbenchers who called for reduced worker protections. However, he told the BEIS committee last week that that was “a long time ago”.





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