May considering workers' rights demands to win Brexit deal support
Rachel Muller-Heyndyk, January 10, 2019
The government is considering giving extra protections to workers to win support for its EU withdrawal agreement
The workers’ rights, health and safety and environmental protections proposals have been put forward by Labour Leave supporter and MP for Bassetlaw John Mann. Mann said that the amendment, which is backed by a number of other Labour MPs in Leave-supporting constituencies, would open up the opportunity for other improvements to the prime minister's deal.
One of Labour's six tests on which it has judged the Brexit deal is 'does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?'
If the amendment is selected by the speaker business, energy and industrial strategy secretary Greg Clark is expected to announce that the government will support it. Clark has indicated that the government will back the amendment, according to reporting by the Guardian.
But union leaders, including general secretary of the GMB Tim Roache, have dismissed the government’s announcement that it could accept the Mann amendment. The TUC said in a statement that these amendments would have no impact if there is a poor deal on Brexit.
“This amendment makes no change to a bad deal for working people’s jobs and rights", said general secretary Frances O'Grady. “We’ve been clear that what working people need is a long-term binding guarantee that their rights will keep pace with those across Europe. This doesn’t deliver that. It doesn't even provide an adequate guarantee for the rights we already have."
O'Grady added: “And since the political declaration isn’t legally binding there’s nothing to stop a future government from ignoring it altogether. The prime minister has talked a big game on workers’ rights all along, but once again the reality falls short.”
The government's seven-page blueprint for the UK's future relationship with the EU, published in November, only briefly mentions that Brussels and the UK are 'determined to work together' to safeguard workers' rights and environmental protections.
This means there are no legal guarantees that everyday rights will continue in areas such as paid holidays, rights for part-time workers, time off for working parents, equal pay for women and limits in working hours.
Kevin Charles, consulting barrister at Crossland Employment Solicitors, told HR magazine that it would be unlikely the government will push further on workers' rights as confirmation that these would be protected post-Brexit ia already in place.
“The government has already made a commitment in the EU Withdrawal Bill that any EU-derived workers’ rights will not be diluted post-Brexit, and it is hard to see the government going any further than this, particularly when the details of what is being asked for in respect of further workers’ rights remains somewhat vague at this stage," he said.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said there was little enthusiasm for the idea among the Labour leadership. “When it comes to the crunch I don’t trust the Conservatives on workers’ rights,” he told the programme. “Even the noises that are being made in the press by the Conservatives don’t mean any such agreement would be legally binding when it comes to protecting workers’ rights.”
But Amy Richardson, senior associate solicitor at Coffin Mew, said that for those who were concerned Theresa May's previous commitments were insufficient this amendment offers reassurance that workers' rights will be protected.
"Whereas Theresa May had previously promised that EU employment laws would be enshrined into UK law at the point of exiting the EU, there were concerns that this would simply be confirming the minimum standards and there was a risk that parliament could reduce those rights at some stage in the future," she said
"The amendment, which was proposed by Labour MPs and which Theresa May has said she will now consider ‘sympathetically’, is to offer more certainty about those rights and to have a mechanism whereby UK employment rights will be revisited any time that EU rights are increased/improved. This would give more comfort that UK employees will not be left behind when rights elsewhere are being improved, but is potentially galling to those that voted Leave."
The news comes as the government has lost two Brexit votes in two days. The first defeat limits the government's financial powers in the event of a no-deal departure. The second forces the PM to announce new plans within three days if her deal fails in the Commons.