The government has said it intends to work with trade unions and businesses on workers' rights post Brexit, adding that it is ‘committed’ to protecting these rights following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The measures will require parliament to be given regular updates on changes to EU legislation and will give MPs a choice on the action government takes in response, including keeping the UK aligned with the EU.
The prime minister will also announce that she intends to extend rights for parents and carers. The Work Life Balance Directive, due to come into force after 2020, will guarantee two months of paid leave for parents with children under eight and five days paid leave a year for carers. Meanwhile all working parents of children aged up to eight will be able to request flexible working.
The government also plans to introduce a Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive which it said will set employment terms for workers from their first day and give more certainty to staff doing shifts, in line with recommendations made by Matthew Taylor's review into modern working practices.
Further proposals include bringing a range of enforcement bodies under one roof. Currently HMRC enforces the national minimum wage and National Living Wage; the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority investigates reports of exploitation and illegal activity in the workplace; and the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate protects the rights of agency workers.
But ahead of the announcement, Labour MPs had said that the prime minister's commitment to improve workers' rights was "meaningless".
Labour and union leaders said these legal tweaks – known as statutory instruments (SIs) – actually amount to significant changes to the law if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, and could leave British workers at a disadvantage.
“After eight years of crippling austerity, workers are forced to work in increasingly precarious conditions. By rushing these changes to legislation, they are leaving British workers at a severe disadvantage compared to their EU colleagues,” shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told The Independent.
Ben Willmott, head of public policy for the CIPD, said that the body welcomed the move and highlighted the importance of preserving the UK's existing approach to workers' rights: “We welcome this commitment from government to ensure that UK employees are treated fairly at work and benefit from the highest standard of employment rights and protections. CIPD research has shown that employers are supportive of the existing employment rights framework, recognising that it strikes the right balance between worker protections and businesses’ need for flexibility,” he said.
“It’s vital that the existing rights framework isn’t watered down after the UK leaves the European Union, and we welcome the government’s commitment to work with businesses to shape future policy in this space.”
He added the need for better enforcement of existing rights: “The challenge isn’t just about introducing new protections. Better, more joined-up enforcement of existing employment rights is crucial to creating fairer workplaces. The proposal for a single enforcement body should help to deliver this.”
However, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady dismissed the proposals as "flimsy": “The prime minister has made a mockery of her own claim that Britain is leading the way on workers’ rights. These are flimsy procedural tweaks. They come nowhere close to ensuring existing rights are protected. And they won’t stop workers’ rights in the UK from falling behind those in the rest of Europe,” she said.
“What’s more, there’s nothing to stop a future right-wing government tearing up this legislation altogether. MPs must not be taken in by this blatant window dressing. Our hard-won rights are still under threat.”